A Voice of Moderation and Humanity
53-year-old Hrant Dink devoted his life to building dialogue and reconciliation between Turks and Armenians. The Agos newspaper, which he edited since 1996, was the country's only bilingual daily.
Dink tirelessly campaigned and argued for Turkey to face up to its past over the killings of its Armenian minority 90 years ago. Dink called those killings genocide, something Turkey vigorously denies.
But his campaign was not motivated out of bitterness and revenge, but as a means to achieving reconciliation between the two peoples. He said:
"For the Armenian identity, Turks play a very important role especially for the Armenian Diaspora. For them getting the world and especially Turkey to recognize that genocide occurred is what binds, holds them together and helps define who they are. For Turks it's the same; they see the Armenians as their enemy and the genocide recognition demands as a threat to their country. Both sides are bound together in recognizing one another as enemies. What we must struggle for is to break this vicious circle."
A taboo-breaking critic
With that quiet intensity, he was in the forefront of challenging political taboos in Turkey. He regularly spoke out about the injustices faced by Turkey's Kurdish population and human rights in general; Dink was also a passionate socialist.
Dink's fearlessness made him a regular contributor on Turkish TV. He always faced down invariably angry and aggressive opponents with carefully reasoned arguments, underscored with a strong sense of humanity, and wherever possible with humour. His arguments were never coloured with the visceral bitterness towards modern Turkey that can be found within the Armenian Diaspora.
In one interview Dink said the difference between him and the Armenian Diaspora was that he lived with Turks of today, while they are living with those of 1915.
But his efforts to find reconciliation regularly found himself in confrontation with Turkey's powerful and dangerous nationalist movement and the Turkish state.
Facing charges for insulting "Turkishness"
Dink faced years of prosecution under the country's numerous strict laws restricting freedom of expression. Last year he was convicted under Turkey's notorious article 301 for "insulting Turkishness".
While numerous writers, including Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk faced prosecution under 301, it was only Dink who was convicted. It was that conviction which the chief suspect in his murder, Ogun Samast, said to the police was his motive.
While Dink was no stranger to death threats throughout his career, following his conviction those threats had escalated both in numbers and seriousness.
In his last column before his murder, he wrote, "Who knows what other injustices I will be up against… What it truly threatening and unbearable for me is the psychological torture I personally place myself in."
Dink also spoke of the frustration that authorities were not taking the threats seriously. He described himself as a pigeon:
"I may perceive myself in the spiritual unease of a pigeon, but I do know that in this country people do not touch pigeons. Pigeons live their lives all the way deep into the city, even amidst the human throngs. Yes, somewhat apprehensive but just as much free."
"Today we are all Hrant, we are all Armenians"
Despite friends' concerns for his safety, he refused to leave the country. Dink said he would only consider doing so, not out of fears for his personal safety but rather if the conviction for him insulting Turkey was upheld. "I don't think I could live with an identity of having insulted them [Turks] in this country... if I am unable to come up with a positive result, it will be honourable for me to leave this country."
Many people in Turkey wished he had, and saved himself. There is a profound sense of grief in Turkey shared by both Armenians and Turks. A few hours after his murder, thousands of people marched to his newspaper chanting "Today we are all Hrant, we are all Armenians."
The murder of Dink has caused not only shock, but more a feeling of loss, that the country has lost a unique individual, a voice of moderation and humanity at a time when the country is becoming increasingly polarized with the rising spectre of political violence.
Yavuz Baydar a Turkish columnist wrote: "I may have lost a friend, but we all know the process of tolerance, peace and understanding has lost one of its staunchest defenders. His dream was a Turkey at peace with its past, and a Turkey with free speech. May his great soul rest in peace." Dink is survived by his wife and three children.
© Qantara.de 2007