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The day before his death, Hrant Dink sent an article he had written for the magazine Radikal in which he told how he had been chosen as a target and the constant haunting afflicting him, his family and others close to him. “I feel like a dove in the streets of a big city, fearful and free at the same time. But I know that the people in this country would never dare touch a dove,” he concluded.
This article, the last one written by Hrant, was published in Radikal 2 on January 20 2007. Translated by Marillac and Turquie Européenne, it was published here on January 22 2007. We share the opinion of our friends of Turquie Européenne who say “Hrant’s writings must not remain the property of anyone whatsoever, they are our common heritage and that of humanity”, we share it here with our readers.
As Fearful as a Dove
A simple remark as an introduction: I was sentenced to 6 months for an offence I did not commit, which is to say “an insult to the Turkish national identity”. Today, I no longer have any other recourse than that of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). I had until January 17 to submit my recourse to this jurisdiction: moreover, my lawyers asked me to write, as an annex to my file a note outlining the unwinding of the facts.
I then considered it might also be very interesting to share this text with the general public. Because, in my eyes, the decision, in conscience, of Turkish public opinion, is also important, if not more so, than that of the European jurisdiction. Had I not been obliged to turn toward the ECHR I would not have felt the need to expose certain facts or to express my feelings in this series of several articles I am about to publish in Radikal 2. I could very well have kept all that to myself.
But since things have now reached such a point, it seems best to share all this… The question everyone cannot help asking, not only myself or Armenians, is the following: “How is it that all those who were dragged before the courts through the invovation of article 301 for having ‘insulted the Turkish national identity’ saw their trials annulled for technical or judicial reasons at the very first hearings, whereas Hrant Dink was sentenced to six months in prison?”
Those who got away
This is not a trivial remark or an unfounded question. If one recalls, not a few spins and somersaults were needed before the trial against Orhan Pamuk even began. “What to do? How to get rid of this affair?” For some, the Ministry of Justice had to authorize the launching of the proceedings. Therefore, the Minister was approached.
Seeing how the gun was now ostensibly aimed in his direction, the Minister of Justice, under pressure, began covering Pamuk with criticism while appealing in his direction so that he would declare “he had not said such things.”
Finally, the first hearing was held in the Pamuk trial. And as Turkey emerged from it, globally ridiculed by the vandal attacks expressed on that ideal occasion, everything was done to avoid repetition of such infamy during the rest of the trial: the judicial procedure was interrupted for formal error even before Pamuk’s appeal to the Judge.
Elif Shafak’s trial followed the same pattern, more or less. It was during a first hearing – the expectation of which had caused great noise and fear in the country – that the trial was annulled without Elif Shafak having to appear. Everyone could congratulate one another on this technical solution. And Prime Minister Erdoğan himself immediately allowed himself a phone call to Elif to express his personal satisfaction.
More trials were expedited the same way, notably concerning articles published by journalist colleagues or academics following the first conference on the Armenian question.
The unanswered question…
Don’t think I am jealous. Quite the opposite. I’m particularly well positioned to know and sympathize with the very high cost of these trials or even of their simple opening; as with the cost of all the injustices inflicted on all those comrades thus exposed.
No, this is not about jealousy. My problem is in knowing why all the concern and sollicitude exhibited during these trials found no echos in the Hrant Dink affair.
Indeed, we realized that these technical escape routes conferred a sort of option for the government faced by a European Union demanding the abolition of article 301: all those decisions could be held up as being exemplary. The only case before which Turkish power remained voiceless before the European authorities concerned the condemnation of Hrant Dink. When this trial was brought up in the matter of the affair surrounding article 301 a slab of concrete fell on the debate.
For, in truth, “how can it be that all these people who were dragged before justice because of this article 301 declaring they had “insulted the Turkish national identity” saw their trials annulled for technical or judicial reasons at their first hearings, while Hrant Dink was sentenced to six months in prison according to an article under which, clearly, he had committed no offence?”
The fact of being Armenian
Yes, we need an answer to this question! Me, most of all. Because, after all, I am a citizen of this country and I insist in being treated equally with all the others.
I have certainly known many prior discriminations linked to my Armenian identity. During my military service in 1986 in the 12th infantry batalion in Denizli, all my colleagues were raised to the rank of sergeant after pronouncing the oath at the ceremony marking the end of classes: only one remained a simple soldier. I was that one. I was an adult, father of two children. Perhaps I should not have been so upset by it. Besides, this allowed for certain advantages: I wouldn’t have to do guard duty or carry out delicate missions. But I experienced this discrimination in a very negative manner. While following the ceremony everyone was enjoying a few minutes of happiness with their family, I will never forget that I spent two hours, leaning against a lousy shack of corrugated iron, crying every single tear in my body.
And when the colonel called me in, his words left me with another vivid wound: “don’t grieve. If there’s the slightest problem, come and see me.”
Sentencing or acquittal under article 301 obviously has nothing to do with the attribution of a military rank. And so, no one will ever hear me say: “because they were not sentenced, then I should not be sentenced either”; or, even worse, the opposite.
But I must admit that as a man used to every form of discrimination, I cannot hold back the logical reflex of asking this question: “Yes or no, did the fact I am Armenian play a role in this decision?”
What I know; what I suspect
And when I confront what I know and what I feel, there is certainly an answer that can be summarized in a few words: some people have decided that, henceforth, this Hrant Dink was becoming too obtrusive and that he needed to know his limits. After which, they went to work…
I can well understand that this thesis is too exclusively centered on myself and my Armenian identity. One can very well say that I’m exaggerating. But there you have it, this is also the way of seeing things that best matches what I suspect… And the facts I have in hand, just like what I am experiencing leave me no choice other than this thesis. This is why it was best that I tell you what I am living on a daily basis and what goes through my mind. After which, you will be free to judge as you see fit.
I am shown my limits
I will start by being more precise about what one can find under this expression: “Hrant Dink is too obtrusive.” Dink has been attracting their attention and annoying them for a good while already. Every since he published Agos at the start of 1996 and evoked the problems of the Armenian community, defending its rights, exposing its problems, and when speaking of historical positions that were not in conformity with official theses, one must admit he had gone beyond several limits. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the publication on April 6 2004 of a paper about Sabiha Gökçen.
In that article, signed by Dink and titled “Madame Sabiha’s secret” the fact was evoked that Armenian relatives and others close to Sabiha had finally revealed that Sabiha Gökçen, Kemal’s adopted daughter, had come from an Armenian orphanage.
When this information was covered by the newspaper with the largest sales in Turkey, Hürriyet, on the following February 21, with excerpts from Agos, there occurred what was bound to happen and Turkey started to teeter on its foundations. During the two weeks that followed, every editorialist in Turkey seized on the topic to render positive or negative comments. One could also read and hear various declarations on the topic. The most important one was undoubtedly the one published by the Turkish army’s General Staff. In this text the highest military institution in Turkey displayed its reaction to the authors of such information: “opening the debate, no matter what the intention may be, concerning such a symbol is a crime against national integrity and social peace.” According to these people, the authors of such information had secret intentions. By suddenly removing the mantle of her “Turkishness” from this woman who had become the myth and the symbol of Turkish womanhood, those people were attempting to creating a earthquake at the core of Turkish identity. Who were those unbalanced ones? Who was this Hrant Dink? He must absolutely be shown his limits.
Invitation to an official meeting
The Military Staff’s declaration occurred on February 22. I listened to it at home on my TV. I slept poorly on the following night. I sensed that something would happen on the next day. My nose and my experience did not fail me. My phone rang in the morning: one of the assistants to Istanbul’s prefect was calling. In a severe tone of voice, he let me know he was expecting me at the prefecture with all the documents relative to this information.
When I asked what was the purpose of such a meeting, I was told it was in order to have a discussion and to take a look at the documents in my possession.
I called my most exprienced journalist friends to ask them what such a call could mean. “As this kind of meeting is not customary, it isn’t part of a legal procedure. However, it would be wise to accept the invitation with the requested documents” they advised.
I followed this advice, and documents in hand I went to see this prefect’s assistant. A most pleasant man. When he invited me into his office, I saw there were two other people sitting there – including a woman. He asked me most politely if these two people he presented as close contacts could witness our meeting and if I had any objections to this. Given the general courtesy displayed, I sat and said it did not disturb me in the least.
The civil servant began without further ado. “Hrant, he said. You are an experienced journalist? Would it not be wise to pay closer attention to the information you produce? What was there about such articles that was necessary? Take a look at the disorder caused around you. We know you. But the man on the street, what does he know? He may very well lend you false intentions. Have a look at the document I have here. The Armenian Patriarchate has addressed our services: according to some internet sites, unbalanced individuals were attempting to organize operations we could qualify of terrorist against certain institutions of the Armenian community. We followed them and localized them in Bursa in order to turn them over to justice. But those are the types of people filling our streets. Shouldn’t we take that kind of information under advisement?”
After the meeting was thus begun by the prefect’s assistant, the man among his two guests then started talking and never stopped. He repeated the first man’s warnings in a more cutting tone of voice yet. He advised me to be on my guard and to avoid any initiative that might increase tension in the country. “From certain of your writings, even though we cannot agree with your style, we can see that your intentions are not evil. But not everyone is capable of this and you could very well attract social wrath upon yourself.” He warned me in this way a number of times.
I contented myself with explaining what had been my intention. For one, I was a journalist and it was the kind of information to profoundly motivate a journalist. I also wanted to talk about those who remained, the survivors, rather than sacrificing to the common habit of speaking only of Armenians through their dead. But I was becoming aware that it was even more difficult to speak of the living than of the dead!
I was about to leave this office when I realized they had not even insisted on seeing or on recuperating the documents I had brought with me. I asked them if they wanted them, before handing them over. But from the content of our exchanges, the reason for my convocation was perfectly clear. I had to know what lines not to cross… I had to be careful… Or things would go wrong!
At the bull’s eye of the target
To tell the truth, what followed was not very good indeed. On the day following my convocation to the prefecture, in a number of newspapers, editorialists began mounting a campaign claiming I was stirring hostilities toward the Turks: this rested on a sentence taken from the series under the form of an essay I had produced on the question of Armenian identity. Removed from these texts and from their context, it was stripped down and transformed: “The new blood that will replace the vitiated Turkish blood that will have been shed, already exists in the artery that the Armenians will create between Armenia and themselves.”
On February 26, following these publications, Levent Terniz the President of the Istanbul Nationalist Home led a group of demonstrators to the door of the Agos newspaper with hostile slogans and threats against me. The police knew about the demonstration and had taken necessary measures around the newspaper’s headquarters. All the TV networks and journalists had sent journalists. The group’s slogans were very clear:
“Turkey love it or leave it”, “Damn the ASALA”, “We can come at any time in the night”. In Levent Erniz’ speech, the target was very clear: “From today onward, Hrant Dink is the target of our anger and our hatred. He is our target.”
The protest ended. But on that same day as well as on the next one, the information was not relayed by a single TV station (except Kanal 7) nor by any newspaper (except Özgür Gündem). It was obvious that the forces manipulating the nationalist group in front of the offices of Agos had managed to place an embargo – save for two misses – on the showing of these less than savory images and slogans.
On the brink of danger
A similar demonstration occurred a few days later at the instigation of a so-called “Federation to Combat Groundless Armenian Theses”. Then, it was the turn of Kemal Kerinçsiz, a lawyer obscure until that day, and his “Union of Great Jurists” to enter the fray.
Kerinçsiz and his friends filed a complaint against me before the Şişli Attorney general (Istanbul). The filing of his compaint served as an acceleration to the so-called article 301 trials that had already eroded Turkey’s respectability. For me this opened up a new and difficult process.
A sort of habit, in fact: during my whole life, I have never ceased prowling close to risk and danger, and being attracted by it. Or is it that they never ceased showing sollicitude for my person?… Be that as it may, I am on the brink of this chasm again. Here I am with people on my trail again. I could feel them, I could sense their presence. And I knew full well that they were not as common and obvious as Kerinçsiz’s limited troops.
Reading was enough to understand
At the beginning of the instruction by the Attorney of Şişli of the case against me for “insulting the Turkish identity”, I was not worried. This was not the first time. I had grown familiar with a similar procedure in Urfa. I had been put on trial for the same motive because of a speech pronounced in Urfa in 2002 in which I had declared “I was not Turkish… but a citizen of Turkey, and an Armenian.”
I was without news of the evolution of that trial. I paid no attention to it, letting my lawyer friends handle the hearings in my absence.
I was thus perfectly calm when I went to make my declaration before the Şişli Attorney. I trusted in the evidence of the sentences I had written. On the clarity of my intentions. The Attorney would quickly understand, beyond this sentence taken out of context and meaning nothing in itself, that by evaluating the entirety of my text one realized I had no intention of “insulting the Turkish national identity”. That would put an end to the comedy. I was convinced that at the term of the inquest, there would be no trial.
But to my astonishment, a trial was opened.
Sure of myself
I did not lose my optimism for so little. So much so that when appearing on television, I recommended that Kerinçsiz not rejoice too soon “that I would not be condemned in such a trial and that should I be sentenced, I would leave the country.”
I was sure of myself. There had been no intention to insult anyone in my article and certainly not the Turkish identity. Anyone taking the trouble of reading it entirely would easily understand that. Besides, the teams of three experts from Istanbul University demonstrated this in the report submitted to the court. There was no reason to worry, the judiciary process would eventually come up short over this mistake.
But no. It never came up short. The Attorney called for my sentencing despite the report by the experts. And the judge sentenced me to a suspended six months in jail.
When I heard the sentence, I found myself trapped by all these useless hopes I had entertained during the six months of the procedure. I was shocked… My disappointment and my revolt reached their utmost limit.
I had held steady during these months by telling myself: “let them come up with this judgment so I can be acquitted. You will see then how you will be sorry for everything you said.” At each one of the hearings, it was said I had spoken of “Turkish blood as a poisoned blood”. On television in the newspapers. Reinforcing every time my notoriety as as enemy of the Turks.
Fascists assaulted me in the halls of the justice palace with all their racist insults. I was covered with placards filled with slurs. And every day more and more phone calls, emails, threatening letters arrived by the hundreds.
I resisted to all that through patience by hanging on to the perspective of my acquittal. No matter what, at the moment the decision of justice was rendered, truth would come forth in the light of day and all these people would be ashamed of their actions.
A single weapon: my honesty
But the judgment was rendered and all my hopes vanished. I found myself in the most unconfortable position possible for a human being.
The judge had rendered his decision in the name of the Turkish nation and had thus endorsed the fact that I had insulted the Turkish identity… I could have put up with many things. But with that, never.
In my opinion, contempt or insults addressed by a man to those with whom he lives, and for reasons of ethnic or religious differences is nothing other than racism: unacceptable, unforgivable behavior for me. This was the spirit in which I declared to journalist friends who came to verify if I would keep my word concerning a possible exile: “I intend to speak with my lawyers; I will appeal and if necessary I will go all the way to the European Tribunal for Human Rights. If I am not acquitted in the course of one of these procedures, then I will leave my country. Because, in my opinion, a person convicted for insulting his fellow citizens has no right to live among them.” In speaking these words, as every time I did so, I could not contain my emotion. My only weapon, my honesty.
But have a look at what followed: the same obstinate force that had worked at isolating me and turning me into a target in the eyes of all Turks decided then to use this very declaration to open a new trial against me, on the pretext that I was attempting to influence justice. The entire media of this country echoed my declaration. But Agos was targeted at that point: the leaders of Agos and myself then found ourselves on trial for having attempted to influence the judge’s decision.
I suppose this is what they call black humor. I am the defendant in an affair: who other than the defendant has more rights to attempt weighing on the judge’s decision? But take a look at this huge joke that says the defendant is further accused of influencing the judge?
“In the name of the Turkish State”
I must admit that the trust I had placed in the legal and judiciary system of my country was severely shaken. This meant that, contrary to what a number of politicians and statesmen may claim, Justice is not as independant as all that. The Judge does not protect the citizen. His mission is to preserve the State.
One can well claim that justice is rendered in the nation’s name. But the justice decision concerning me was rendered solely in the State’s interests. Consequently, I would appeal, but what guarantee could I have that the forces that had decided to reduce me into silence would not be over there, in Ankara, just as influent?
Was is not out of this very Court of Appeals in fact that thoroughly questionable decisions had emerged, notably as pertains to property rights of non-Muslim minorities?
Despite the Attorney General’s efforts
But we appealed. And what happened?
The Attorney General of the Court of Appeals came to the same conclusions as those of the experts in Istanbul: he called for acquittal. But the Court of Appeals condemned me again. Just as I was certain of what I had written, the Attorney was so certain that he had understood that he went against this decision and moved the matter over to the Main Chamber of the Court of Appeals.
What can I say? This power that had so fully devoted itself to standing in my way and that, most probably, had used all its weight through methods unknown to me, at each stage of this affair, this power had thus been behind the stage lights again. And in the end, the majority at the General Chamber of the Court of Appeals pronounced me guilty for “insulting Turkish identity”.
Like a dove
Henceforth it was very clear that all those who had worked at rendering me inoffensive and isolating me had succeeded. Through the nauseating disinformation under which they had drowned society, they had managed to create a not-negligible mass of people who saw in Hrant Dink a man “insulting Turkish identity”. My computer discs are now saturated with these sentences filled with hatred and threats.
(One of these letters was posted from Bursa: because I found it particularly threatening, I submitted it to the prosecution in Şişli, with no response to this day).
How many of these threats are founded, how many are fantasies? I have no way of knowing. For me, the main and least bearable threat consists of this psychological torture I inflict on myself. What gnaws at my mind, is the question of knowing what all these people think of me. What a pity that I should be so better known now than in the past and that I should sense so well the looks aimed at me: “look, that one, isn’t he Armenian?” And I reflexively begin to torture myself. This torture has two faces: curiosity and worry. One the one side, attention, on the other, fear. Exactly as for a dove… About the same way as it does, I have one eye out on the lookout, on my right, on my left, in front or behind me. My head is as agitated as the dove’s… And just as quick to turn in a blink of the eye.
Hey you, Ministers!
What did the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdullah Gül say? What did his colleague at Justice say again? “Let’s not overstate the importance of this article 301. Is there a single person who has gone to jail because of it?”
As if jail were the only punishment… Here, let me give you a punishment… come on, take a good look… Lock a man into constant fear like a dove, can you know the real pain of it, can you know it, you Ministers, Sirs? Have you ever followed the least dove? These are not easy things I am living through… That I am living with my family. I have thought of really leaving the country. Especially when the threats also targeted my close ones… Each time, in these situations, I have felt powerless.
I could have defended my own will but I had no right to risk the life of my close ones.
I could have been my own hero, but I could not have played the hero by putting anyone else’s life in danger.
And in those moments of distress, I gathered together my children, my family. I found shelter near them. They trusted me, counted on me. Wherever I went, they would have followed. Whether I stayed or I left, they would have been at my side.
Staying and resisting
But then, leaving, where? In Armenia? For someone such as myself who cannot stand injustice, how would I have held up faced by that which I know exists across the border? Would I not incur greater risks over there than here? Living in the West was not my style. Going over there for three days and asking myself about returning home on the fourth was not a viable solution either for someone like me, so attached to his country. What would I have done in those countries?
The calm would have destroyed me! And above all, going from a boiling hell to a too-calm paradise would not have suited a temperament like mine. I am of the race of men waiting for their hell to become a paradise.
Staying and living in Turkey is at once our true wish but also the respectful necessity owed to our friends, to all those we know and to all the others we don’t know, who support us and who fight for a democracy in Turkey.
So we would stay and we would fight. But if some day we were forced to leave… Then, as in 1915, we would take to the road… Like our ancestors… Without really knowing where we were going… On foot on the roads on which our steps would carry us… in pain and sadness…
We would then leave our country. Without being led by our hearts, but by our feet…Wherever they would take us…
Fearful and free
I hope with all my heart that we will not have to discover such a departure. Besides we have so many hopes and so many reasons not to want to live through such a thing.
Today, I am filing a request to the Tribunal in Strasburg. I don’t know how many more years this will last. What I do know and which reassures me somewhat, is that until the end of that trial, I will continue living in Turkey. Should a decision in my favor be rendered, then it would certainly be a great happiness. It would mean I did not have to leave my country.
The year 2007 risks being even harder for me than the ones that came before. The trials will go on. Others will begin. Who knows how many more injustices I will have to face?
But at the same time, I will hold fast to this reality as my sole guarantee: yes, I can see myself in the worry and anguish of a dove, but I know that in this country people do not touch doves.
Doves can live in the heart of cities, in the warmth of human throngs. Not without fear, of course, but in such freedom!
January 19 2020