It certainly has been a painful and shocking few days with regards to ethnic Armenian Hrant Dink's assassination in Istanbul by a Turkish gunman. He was shot in the head twice, from behind, with another two bullets in his body. Within two days, the killer was caught and there has been a reported confession. In short, the 17 year old Ogun Samast stated that he read some quotes (that were taken out of context) that Dink had stated and thus it planted the seed to seek him out and shoot him without regret. After Friday Prayers, of course. Because we all know that Islam is a peaceful religion.
It isn't the first high profile Turkish assassination of a journalist, and it probably won't be the last. What is certain is that the Turkish government has created a climate of fear and repression with their ethnic minorities. The Kurds come to mind. Orhan Pamuk could probably tell you some stories as well.
Hero or Enemy?- Make Up Your Mind
On one hand, the Turkish government enables lawmakers to use Article 301, "Insulting Turkishness", an Orwellian law the prohibits any criticism against the Turkish State to detain, jail, and in some cases, kill people for excercising freedom of speech. Dink's was tried, and convicted of this "crime" by the Turkish court system. He received a 6 month suspended sentence. Because of that, he was literally branded by the government of Turkey as "an enemy of the State". Now, after his police protection request was never taken seriously even after serious death threats, he is killed and hailed by the Turkish government and people as "a hero for democracy". I'm sorry, maybe I am not getting this correctly. But, first you convict Hrant Dink for speaking his mind, and then when he is shot dead, you state that his death was a "shot at democracy". Sounds like a double standard to me. But, that is the Turkish government for you.
And, that's where I begin my blog subject. Let's get a few things straight right off the bat. First, this blogger isn't blaming "all Turks" for Dink's death. It was a 17 year old Turkish kid, who may or may not have been connected to a larger ultra-nationalist organization. And, there is some speculation that he may have been a tool because he is considered a minor (under 18). Still, it would be foolish to think that "all Turks" wanted this result. True, there is a segment of Turks who are rejoicing at the killing of an ethnic Christian Armenian. Yet, based on the temporary outpouring of outrage and sadness within Turkey, it would not be fair or just to generalize. Next, let's separate the corrupt, and as many people have claimed, "facist" Turkish government from the people of Turkey. It's pretty clear that moderate and reasonable Turkish citizens do not feel that their government represents their morals, outlook, or political views. Sounds fair to me. In many ways, you can't help that Turks were brought up in schools not learning about other minorities in their country and flat-out rewriting their own history on the subject of the Armenian Genocide. After all, I sure has hell don't feel George W. Bush represents my political ideals. But, anyway.
The name games will start soon.
A self-proclaimed "media junkie", I have always been fascinated with how news and words are manipulated in the media. My interest in this subject had its roots in trying to pick apart Armenian Genocide deniers in my early high school years, and then graduated to a more broad level when I made it my focus in obtaining my political science degree in college. I remember Ben Bagdikian's "Media Monopoly" as being a great influence. You've got the Justin McCarthy's and Standford Shaws' of the world. Back then, Turkish denial was pretty crude. Now, it's as slick as ever.
The art of Turkish spin as it relates to Armenians is pretty simple. Historically, it has been proven that there was a Genocide of Armenians. So, you start with that as your example. The goal is to bring the subject out of clarity and into murkiness by appealing to most peoples' "reasonable senses" that "there are always two sides to a story" sense of fairness. So, the goal is to bring a historical fact to the middle ground. Ultimately, blurring the lines of fact and fiction create "a controversial topic" and a "heated historical debate". In that sense, the Turkish government has certainly done that in some circles. In other cases, especially in blogs, many people dismiss valid ideas and distinct political stances as "nationalist rhetoric", when in fact they are indeed enlightened political activism. The word "nationalist" has been hijacked to become a dismissive and frightening term. Great tactic. It's the same when the Presidential Elections in the USA start and views are deemed "liberal" or "left wing". Of course, its just a tactic, and absurd at that. But, many people are fooled by the labels.
How this relate to Hrant Dink is fascinating. In reading Turkish blogs and newspapers on the net, I keep seeing that the reason that Dink was revered in Turkey was because he took a "reasonable approach" on the Genocide. That, or course, it utterly false. Because the insinuation is that Hrant Dink wavered on the facts of the Genocide. In truth, Dink never questioned that there was an Armenian Genocide and certainly worked toward gaining recognition for it. It's what eventually got him killed. However, where most Turks are missing the point is that he was "reasonable" in how he did not accuse modern day Turks of doing the killings. And, that he was fairly comfortable in his status as a Turkish citizen and professed a great love for the country he lived in. Yet, it can be debated whether he was really that comfortable given his death threats and his recent essay on living like a "scared pidgeon". The "pyschological torture", as he put it may seem to refute whether he was really that comfortable. Lastly, he was "reasonable" in challenging the mindset of Diasporan Armenians, as well as Armenian citizens not to equate the Turks of today, with those of 1915. This, I believe, was his boldest act within his Armenian community. And I believe that it was this ideal that endeared him to Turks the most. Of at least, those who knew of him. Abusing Dink's Name
In perusing through the Turkish blogs and media, however, another thing has struck me. Slowly, but surely, Armenians are yet again being dragged through the mud. The popular sentiment is to state that "ultra-nationalist Turks and Armenians will use Dink's death for their dark means". Or, that Dink " was hated in the Diaspora's for his reasonable view on the Genocide". Of course, in the case of Armenians, this "ultra nationalism" merely means enlightened political activism in the form of Genocide awareness and making sure Turkey doesn't whitewash history. But, for Turks, "ultra-nationalism" really means killing Hrant Dink because he spoke aloud the facts of the Armenian genocide. Big difference. And thus the Turkish spin begins. It's not enough that Armenians have to endure another leader being gunned down, but, the Turkish press now has to muddy the waters yet again and very carefully bring the issue of the Armenians into play. Blur the lines, muddy the waters. If you don't believe me, read the text from a column in the Turkish Weekly by Ihsan Bal. You can read it HERE.
You'll catch my drift quick, I hope. What is grotesquely ironic is that Turkish spin has plunged them into a deep national crisis. An out of context statement Dink make about "poisoning blood" was used against him to cement his guilty Article 301 verdict. In turn, a young 17 year old in Trabzon uses that out of context quote to fuel his murderous tendencies to kill Dink. Now, Turkey is handicapped when it comes to the EU debate for now all because they enabled lawmakers to proceed with Article 301. Then, you see and read some Turkish articles that truly open your eyes and look toward the future. For example, HERE
is Mehmet Yilmaz' incredible revelation to his target readers about Dink's childhood and how it relates to a law that makes it illegal to will an estate to Armenian charities or schools. We all knew that, but did Turks know it as a form of ethnic discrimination. Perhaps the "tipping point" is here.
One of the few bright spots in this dark event has been how Turkish citizens have temporarily responded with an outpouring of love and respect for Hrant Dink. Thousands took to the street in Istanbul chanting "We are Hrant, We are Armenian". Universal condemnation from Turkish entities across the globe has been swift and clear. I have been touched and surprised by these sentiments. As someone who has never visited Turkey, by choice, I never imagined what Dink's murder meant to so many people. Thus, I am somewhat encouraged that at some point, Turks will be able to accept their genocidal past, and come clean. On the other hand, I hope Armenians, who like myself, have never been able to break free of the 1915 Turk image, do so after this barbaric gundown of Hrant Dink. I am willing to give it a try. And Dink has inspired me to do it.
In a recent BBC report on Dink's death, an ethnic Armenian in Istanbul was interviewed. The gist of the piece was the Turkey's Armenians are scared. Dink represented their boldest and most fearless voice, even more so than Mutafian. While others may seek to choose an angle tying Dink's death with how Turkey advances and deals with it, I concede that this is the more important story. Yet, I choose to try and put the spotlight on Turkey's Armenians and how they will be protected, or not, from Turkish harassment going forward. Illegal seizures of their property, suppressions of historical accuracy, "psychological torture", etc must not be overlooked. Personally, I don't see what's in it anymore for Armenians to stay in Turkey at this point. But, that's not my choice to make a really none of my business. However, the story that should be told is how Turkey's Armenian representative was shot down. And now, how will they recover? Why should we care of an ethnic Armenian has been turned into a Turkish martyr for the benefit of THEIR evolution? It seems to me that Armenians tend to be cautiously open-minded, ONCE Turkey admits their past and works toward creating a healthy and open environment for Armenians living there.
To me, Hrant Dink's most heroic act was in knowing that at some point his quick demise was a distinct possibility. Especially in a politically hostile country. He chose to stay and defend his ideals- free speech, unity, humanity, ethnic pride, and historical accuracy. It's these things that made him better than all of us.