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HRANT DINK: THE MARTYR FOR MANY CAUSES Armenian News Network / Groong February 2, 2007 By Asbed Bedrossian and Asbed Kotchikian The assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink on January 19 in Istanbul galvanized two nations in ways that no analyst or political leader could have fathomed. While all the sides, Armenian or Turkish, agree that what happened was a tragedy, there have been many different interpretations and reactions to Mr. Dink's assassination. It should be pointed out that while most of the reactions and actions were spontaneous, there were cases where a conscious attempt was discernible by groups to appropriate this tragedy for political ends. A POLITICAL UPHEAVAL IN TURKEY Perhaps a good place to start looking at the impact of Mr. Dink's assassination is in his homeland Turkey. The reasons are manifold. True that Mr. Dink was an Armenian by ethnicity and identity, however he was also operating within the socio-political fabric of Turkey and as such he was also a Turkish citizen who wanted to change things in his country. It could be argued that Mr. Dink's struggle to reconcile his dual identity as an Armenian and a Turkish citizen reflected his struggle in life to reconcile Turkey, firstly with its past, and then with Armenians. The processes that started influencing Turkish civil society over the last several years have been monumental and under a microscope. There are growing numbers of Turkish scholars, intellectuals and individuals who have been vocal about the existing political situation in their country and have been demanding for change. The number of Turkish intellectuals who have gone to trial on charges of "insulting Turkishness" or undermining the nation were emphasized in the news during the previous year. Mr. Dink was one of those and as such it might change one's perspective if one considers him to be a Turkish intellectual of Armenian descent rather than of a hyphenated identity of Turkish-Armenian. This is further amplified by the fact that Mr. Dink was always adamant about bringing to the fore his identity as a Turkish citizen and to do, what he thought, was for the best of his country, Turkey, and through that what was best for his nation - Armenian. The assassination of Mr. Dink put the Turkish government in a very tough position. Despite the fact that many Armenian (and some Turkish) circles accused the Turkish government of conspiring to kill Mr. Dink, it is a far fetched theory. Had the government wanted to physically silence Mr. Dink, they would not have assassinated him so soon after his trial while he and Turkey were still in the spotlight, and his death would have resonated worldwide as it did. That being said, the Turkish government shares complicity in the assassination because it fosters anti-Armenian sentiments when it comes to the denial of the Genocide, and in its lack of response to Mr. Dink's pleas for increased security after he had received threats against his person. The images of tens of thousands of demonstrators shouting "we are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians" seems to provide another view of Turkey. This group found a martyr for its cause to push the envelope for socio-political perestroika and glasnost in Turkey. If the assassinated individual was one of the many other Turkish intellectuals who were put on trial for insulting Turkish national identity and pride, the reaction would have been "almost" similar. "Almost", since the Armenian background of Mr. Dink amplified the situation and put the focus on Turkish-Armenian rather than the Turkish-Turkish dimension of the assassination. In other words, had the victim been an ethnic Turk, clearly there would have been tension between those forces pushing for civic society development in Turkey and those who opposed them. Furthermore, there would have been more demonstrators taking the streets realizing that what was at stake was a domestic, Turkish problem. WHICH TURKEY? The changes happening in Turkey over the last decade have created a multilayered and nuanced society which not too many people - especially on the Armenian side - fully understand. Mr. Dink's assassination and the subsequent reactions in the country testify to this existing social complexity. The way the assassination is presented as a "Turkish responsibility" needs to be redirected and a new question posed: which Turkey is responsible for Hrant Dink's death? Is it the government of AK party which is resisting international pressure to reform the country's penal codes in its bid to enter the European Union vs. the Turkey where civil society advocates are calling for greater freedoms? Or is it the Turkey of radical nationalists who'd rather see their country become a bastion of nationalist fervor and exclude all non-Turks living there? The truth of the matter is that, at this point, engaging elements of Turkish society who are adamant to change the status quo in their country could yield better results than the oversimplified view often held by many Armenians - in Armenia and the Diaspora - that Turkey is the same Turkey it was 100 years ago and that all Turks are the same. The lack of parameters for this engagement is what makes the situation more complicated. What is meant by parameters is the issue of actors and views. Thus on the Turkish side there are no well developed civil society groups (other than some in academia) who could become partners in pushing civil society development, and through it reconciliation with Armenia and Armenians. On the Armenian side, the problem is more psychological, since the inability or unwillingness to view Turkey beyond the monolithic entity that Armenian tunnel vision has propagated for so long, has led to an oversimplified perception of modern Turkey and Turks. In addition, an unwillingness on the Armenian side to talk with Turks has led to a situation where the lack of dialogue has lead people to talk AT each other, rather than TO each other. A MARTYR FOR WHOM? All causes need martyrs and symbols to create a sense of unity and continuity with the "cause". Very few individuals manage to become symbols for more than one, and sometimes contradictory, causes and Mr. Dink, in his death, managed to do just that. Thus, on the one hand he became a symbol for people calling for reform and openness in Turkey. On the other hand, Armenians found a new symbol to superimpose on the older one of the genocidal Turk and to reinforce the belief that Turkey has not and will not change. What Mr. Dink tried to do in his life, - breaking the taboos and stereotypes between Armenians and Turks, - was reinforced in his death especially in the case of many Armenians who, while disagreeing with his overtures during his lifetime, didn't hesitate to "use" him as a new symbol, layered on old ones, of genocide by putting his death in the same category as the victims of the Genocide of 1915 and equating him with names. The facility with which the diasporan media appropriated Mr. Dink's assassination into the larger picture of anti-Turkish sentiments is an indicator of a larger, two-fold, endemic problem. First, the inability and unwillingness to transcend pre-existing stereotypes, maintained through a "hunger" for new symbols to maintain and drive to demonizing and othering the Turk. Second, the inability to realize that the issue of the Genocide - while present in the psyche of Turkish society - is not central to the development of that society, which has more pressing issues, such as freedom of speech, on its agenda. It is quite possible that Mr. Dink's assassination has simultaneously served two seemingly disjoint, yet complimentary causes. On the one hand it has strengthened the civil society movement in Turkey by providing them with a symbol to continue their struggle to open Turkey to ideas and change. On the other hand, the Diaspora were galvanized by this assassination in their continued "struggle" against Turkey, which focuses more on Genocide recognition than preserving its Armenian roots (Hayabahbanoom). Being under increased pressure from both inside (the Turkish civil society movements) and outside (the Armenians), it is highly doubtful that the Turkish government would cave in at this point in time. On the contrary, it could stigmatize the civil society movements in the country as enemies of the nation, "Armenians", and by doing so, undermine the work of Turkish citizens who would like to see their country follow a path to open society with freedom of speech. Mr. Dink's assassination brought the issue of Genocide to the headlines in Turkey, and through it the world witnessed an unexpected testimony of popular support for breaking down barriers between Turkish and Armenian people by the Turkish people, and addressing the Genocide. Armenians now have proof that Turks wish to talk about 1915, but their government is playing politics with it in order to maintain the current elite's status quo. It remains to be seen if, on the Armenian side, people will realize that the cracks in the wall of silence are not only due to external pressure on Turkey, but also from internal processes. -- Asbed Bedrossian is editor and publisher of the Armenian News Network Groong. Dr. Asbed Kotchikian is a political scientist specializing in and teaching courses on the South Caucasus and the Middle East. Comments to the author may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.