“What actually needs to be done now is to re-handle the Dink murder case as if the murder took place today, and to do this with determination to resolve it,” Arslan told Sunday’s Zaman.
The late editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, Dink was shot dead in broad daylight on Jan. 19, 2007, by an ultranationalist teenager outside the offices of his newspaper in İstanbul. The gunman, Ogün Samast, and 18 others were brought to trial. The investigation into his murder was stalled, but the suspected perpetrator and his accomplices were put on trial. However, the final ruling of the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court issued last month failed to please those expecting justice to be served. During the process, lawyers for the Dink family and the co-plaintiffs in the case presented evidence indicating that Samast did not act alone. Samast stood trial in a juvenile court because he was a minor at the time of the murder. He was recently sentenced to 22 years, 10 months in prison by the court. In a separate trial, two gendarmerie officers were convicted on charges of dereliction of duty in the run-up to the Dink murder.
Another suspect, Yasin Hayal, was given life in prison for inciting Samast to murder. However, Erhan Tuncel, who worked as an informant for the Trabzon Police Department, was found not guilty of masterminding the murder. The prosecution believes the killers are affiliated with the Ergenekon network, a shadowy crime network that has alleged links within the state, whose suspected members are currently standing trial on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.
Arslan is also the author of the book, “Bi Ermeni Var: Dink Operasyonunun Şifreleri” (There’s this Armenian: The Codes of the Dink Operation), which was published last year seeking to shed light on some of the shady aspects surrounding Dink’s murder. According to Arslan, the court made its final ruling exactly in line with the expectations of those who masterminded Dink’s murder, which he described as the indisputable success of Ergenekon. “Although five years have passed since the murder, the big brothers, I mean the real masterminds of the murder, could not be reached. Those who planned and masterminded the murder and prepared the groundwork for it were not even investigated. Such a professionally committed murder has been covered up by attributing it to several boys who were playing football on a field. The court’s ruling has confirmed how Ergenekon is still very strong,” said Arslan.
Considering the fact that the prosecutor conducting the investigation into the assassination of Dink, Hikmet Usta, announced his opinion last September as to who masterminded the assassination and said the murder was committed by Ergenekon’s cell in the Black Sea province of Trabzon, Arslan commented on the court ignoring the prosecutor’s opinion by not finding any connection to an organized gang in the Dink murder and pointed out some misfortunes during the trial.
“One of the misfortunes of this case was the replacement of prosecutors and judges during the trial. The former presiding judge of the case [Erkan Çanak] was taken off the case due to his alleged relations with drug barons. The former prosecutor of the case was also taken off the case for another reason. The name of this prosecutor was on the list of members of the judiciary who would benefit from the Sledgehammer coup case. This detail is important and because of this, both the court and the prosecutor’s office skillfully warded off attempts to deepen the case during the five-year-long trial. They either rejected such attempts or left them to time. Another misfortune was the conduct of another operation over the Dink murder. Ergenekon circles diverted our attention to another point. They diverted our attention to other points that hypnotized us and made us fail to see the obvious,” explained Arslan.
Elaborating on the point Ergenekon circles tried to attract the public’s attention to, he said these circles tried to undermine those carrying out the Ergenekon investigation and damage the prestige of the court hearing the Ergenekon trial.
“Unfortunately, they have been successful in their attempts to a certain extent. So, everyone had their own ‘gang’ and suspects they wanted to see in that gang. Or else, it is very obvious that the Hrant Dink murder is an operation included in the Cage Operation Action Plan,” he said.
The Cage Operation Action Plan is an alleged military plot to intimidate the country’s non-Muslim population by assassinating some of their prominent community figures. It was uncovered by the Taraf daily in late 2009. The Cage plan was detailed on a CD seized in 2009 from the office of retired Maj. Levent Bektaş, who was arrested in April 2009 for suspected links to a large cache of munitions buried in İstanbul’s Poyrazköy area. That discovery came as part of an investigation into Ergenekon. The CD exposed the group’s plans to assassinate prominent Turkish non-Muslim figures and place the blame for the killings on the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The desired result was an increase in internal and external pressure on the party, leading to diminishing public support for the government.
The Cage plan called the killings of Dink, Catholic priest Father Andrea Santoro and three Christians in Malatya an “operation.” According to the police report, the mastermind behind the Cage plan was İbrahim Şahin, the former deputy chief of the National Police Department’s Special Operations Unit.
“When we look at the murder of Dink in general and its planning in Trabzon and İstanbul, we see the signs of Cage Operation Action Plan. Let’s remember those days. In 2003 and the ensuing period, there was a debate that could not be well understood on missionary activities and loss of religion. These debates culminated in 2004 and 2005. … The necessary environment [for the attacks on non-Muslims] was prepared in this way. There was an aim to create a neo-nationalist front against the AK Party. There was a need to create a public unease over the prospects of losing religion. When we look at the murder of Father Santaro [in Trabzon in 2006], Hrant Dink and the killing of three Christians in Malatya [in 2007], we see that the perpetrators were all influenced by this wave. They attacked churches and killed missionaries out of fear that religion [Islam] was slipping from the hands of the nation. In brief, in order to understand Dink’s murder and its goal, we need to look at the game that has been skillfully played since 2003,” Arslan said.