It’s been six years since Hrant Dink, the editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, was gunned down outside his office in the middle of the day on one of the busiest streets of Istanbul.
Thousands gather in front of the Agos office to commemorate the assassination of Hrant Dink. [AFP]
Once again thousands gathered in front of the Agos building on Saturday (January 19th) to commemorate Dink’s murder and show solidarity with the continuing search for justice and accountability.
Standing in the cold rain, the crowd carried signs reading “We are here my brother” (Buradayız ahparig) and “We are all Hrant. We are all Armenian,” in Turkish, Armenian and Kurdish.
The assassination of Dink, an advocate of human rights and democratisation, sparked international and domestic outrage as well as an outpouring of solidarity with his message of peace.
Yet as the subsequent five-year-long trial against the accused murderers became marred in controversy and irregularities, his death also came to symbolise the broken system of justice and state neglect.
Last year’s verdict, in which the court ruled there was no conspiracy or organised terrorist group behind the killing, resulted in the acquittal of 19 suspects. Yasin Hayal, an ultra-nationalist from Trabzon, was sentenced to life in prison for inciting and providing a weapon and money to the gunman Ogun Samast. Earlier Samast, who was a minor at the time, received 22 years with the possibility of parole in 2021.
The verdict that the suspects acted alone, however, failed to convince many who claimed the assassination and other attacks against minorities were the work of a shadowy ultra-nationalist group with ties to the state. To the Dink family, civil society and a loose network of sympathisers, the case showed signs of negligence on the part of the state at best, and at worst a cover up.
A report prepared by the State Audit Institution released last year found there was serious neglect by the police and intelligence services to take threats against Dink — who had received more than 2,000 death threats — seriously.
The report also noted that although suspects in Dink’s slaying were quickly apprehended, there were systematic errors during the investigation and trial.
In a new development, on January 10th the Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office requested the high court overturn last year’s highly controversial decision that ruled out the presence of an organised criminal terrorist network in Dink murder.
“It is clear from the case file that Hrant Dink on January 19th 2007 was killed by the suspects only because he was from a different religion and nation and as part of a planned and systematic activity of a criminal network which aimed to harm the state’s unity. It is obvious that the murder wasn’t a random killing and aimed to weaken the state authority, to create an environment of chaos and instability by harming public order and to put Turkey in a difficult position in the international arena,” the prosecutor’s office statement said.
However, the controversy surrounding the trial and search for justice has Dink’s friends, family, and lawyers sceptical over how the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court will react to the prosecutor’s latest objection.
“We are all aware that this court has a tainted record when it comes to Dink ruling. And even if the court accepts this objection, there is still a need for political will which commits itself to shed light into the real actors within the whole state structure ranging from the police force, to the security intelligence, from political authorities to the judiciary and bureaucracy,” commented Karin Karakasli, an author and close friend of Dink’s who is also from Turkey’s Armenian community.
Lawyers, Dink’s friends and others interested in the trial have repeatedly expressed their frustration that there may have been attempts to protect the suspects. A lengthy list of irregularities in the Dink murder investigation has marred the judicial process, including deleted records and hidden files that suggest a police cover-up.
“If the police officer who had a picture taken with murderer Ogun Samast, holding the Turkish flag just after the assassination, was promoted to deputy chief of the Malatya police, if the parliament elects a chief ombudsman who is one of the judges who approved the late Dink’s sentence under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code [which outlaws publicly insulting the Turkishness], then we all become concerned about whether there is an ideological convergence between the killer network and the authorities of this country. Whoever remains reluctant to shed light into this trial is deemed to cooperate with the offenders,” Hayko Bagdat of the Hrant’s Friends Group told SES Türkiye.
“When you look at the bigger picture behind the murder, even the man on the street can see the deep structure, the organisation,” Bagdat said, adding that the judicial system has failed to take Dink’s case seriously.
Umut Oran, a deputy from the main opposition CHP, told SES Türkiye the search for the truth in Dink’s murder is a litmus test for Turkish democracy.
“For six years, Turkey has been waiting for the real actors of such an organised and public-supported murder to be found. We all know that without finding the main creators of this darkness, Turkey cannot take further step in the direction of law and democracy,” Oran told SES Türkiye.
“We don’t want to be known as a country of unidentified murders, a convenient place for people to be discriminated against because of their ethnic backgrounds or religious and political convictions. This country deserves to be a place where journalists do not risk being killed just because they express their opinions, where people can hold their heads high instead of living frightened as a pigeon,” Oran said.