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Review & Outlook - 02/01/2007

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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 asbed@hotmail.com.

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