It has been eight years now since Hrant Dink was shot down on a cold Istanbul street. He is still mourned. He still awaits justice.
Dink, an ebullient public intellectual and journalist, was a key figure in Turkey’s dwindling Armenian community and an important activist in Turkey’s long struggle for a more liberal, tolerant society. For this, he was rewarded with state harassment, a public vilification campaign, and, finally, an assassin’s bullet.
Then, as now, Turkish journalists were subject to threats, smear campaigns and sporadic state prosecution aimed at keeping discourse within set boundaries. Then, as now, journalists’ requests for police protection are blithely ignored.
In July 2011 Ogün Samast, 17 years old at the time of the murder, was found guilty of shooting Hrant Dink and was sentenced to nearly 23 years in prison by a Children’s Court. Nonetheless, as Andrew Gardner, Amnesty Researcher on Turkey, has noted:
Hrant Dink was murdered for peacefully expressing his opinions…The security services knew of the murder plot and were in communication with those accused of the murder yet nothing was done to stop it taking place…Nothing short of a full investigation into the actions of all the state institutions and officials implicated in the murder will represent justice.
The echoes of this case continue to ripple through Turkish society, in continued harassment and prosecutions of journalists, in the vilification of any who would question the state’s own version of history, and in on-going culture of impunity that puts all critics of the state at risk.
In particular, the decision to appoint a suspect in the case, Ercan Demir, as the new police chief in strife torn Cizre raised serious questions, particularly when the death toll rose after his arrival. The choice raises very serious questions about the attitude of the security services in relation to both the Dink murder and the violence in Cizre. As journalist Frederike Geerdink reported today:
While in Cizre for two days, several people told Beaconreader [Geerdink’s blog] about the new police chief who was recently appointed to the town, a man with the name Ercan Demir. He was transferred from the city of Trabzon, at Turkey’s Black Sea coast in the north, to Cizre on 5 January…. A member of the municipal council of Cizre, who declined to give her name, said: ‘Why send such a man to Cizre when the first killings had already happened here? His appointment was clearly a provocation. He came here to kill.’
However, last Friday a court investigating the Dink case, an arrest warrant was issued for Demir and, today, news reports indicate that he has surrendered himself into custody. Speaking from London, Milena Buyum, Amnesty’s campaigner on Turkey, concluded:
Eight years on, all the state institutions and officials implicated in his murder have yet to be brought into account for their role in failing to prevent Hrant Dink’s murder. This morning’s arrest of the then head of the Trabzon Security Directorate for failure to act on information regarding the murder may be the start of the thorough investigation into the murder that we have been calling for. Only time will show whether this is the case.
Justice in this case is as important today as it was eight years ago. His family and loved ones deserve it. His country needs it.
St. Lawrence University