If Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was fatally shot in front of the headquarters of the bilingual Armenian weekly Agos in 2007, were alive today, he would have been overjoyed that the Ergenekon gang is being investigated, Agos Editor Sarkis Seropyan has said.
Seropyan was referring to the investigation into Ergenekon, a neo-nationalist gang believed to be the extension of a clandestine network of groups with members in the armed forces and accused of being behind a number of unsolved murders of journalists, academics, public-opinion leaders and writers.
An investigation in the wake of the Dink assassination revealed that a group of ultranationalists was behind the murder. Strong evidence suggested that some members of the group had ties with the police department in northern Trabzon, the hometown of the plotters.
Some gendarmes later confirmed that they had been tipped off about the plot to kill Dink before the murder was committed.
The Dink family lawyers have frequently leveled allegations that police have attempted to obscure evidence. Fethiye Çetin, who represents the Dink family in the trial, had told Monday Talk in 2008 that some people who have been arrested as a result of the Ergenekon operation were very active in the process leading to Dink’s murder.
However, although three years have passed since Dink was killed, the investigation into this vicious murder has yielded no conclusion.
Following the murder of Hrant Dink, you continued to publish Agos without any interruptions. How did that happen?
Seropyan: A lot of people flooded our offices right after the news. People — some of them we knew and some we did not know or like — came to help us to put out the paper. With their support, we were able to publish a special issue. Indeed, they did it. Long-time Agos page designer Ümit Kıvanç, who is no longer with us, did the unforgettable front page. That issue sold about 50,000 copies even though our circulation did not normally exceed 5,000.
What is your circulation now?
Seropyan: With that special issue, we had an upsurge in our circulation, and since then it has gradually decreased and come to a balance of around 8,000-10,000 copies.
“Friends of Hrant” has just released a press statement noting that it’s been three years since his murder and those who masterminded it are still free. What do you think?
Seropyan: In honor killings, adults use minors to avoid harsher punishments, and this seems like what adults did in planning Hrant’s murder. A report prepared by the Dink family lawyers indicates the facts and the process in which the case was not resolved despite those facts very well. There are only a couple of boys that have been brought before the court as assassins. Some of the people whose breath I sometimes felt on my neck during the hearings are now being tried in connection with Ergenekon. They were so-called lawyers, jurists, generals, etc., but they are now responsible to the court. Sooner or later, Hrant’s case is going to be linked with the Ergenekon case even though we don’t know how far Ergenekon will be pursued. But if it is pursued, it will be good for the country. If Hrant were alive and saw the Ergenekon case, he would be over the moon. He would jump for joy. He would have supported the Ergenekon case much more than what we are able to do at Agos He would not have been satisfied just by presenting the news related to Ergenekon. This case against Ergenekon was his dream. It was his dream that those people’s masks would drop.
What do you think Dink would have done at Agos in relation to the Ergenekon case? Can you imagine it?
Seropyan: He was so different. He would have done something that we cannot even think about. Fatih Sultan Mehmet [“the Conqueror”] II had his warships transported overland. Hrant would have his ships moved overland as well. We can’t even dream about it.
What strikes you the most in the report prepared by the Dink family lawyers?
Seropyan: The report repeats the sentence “Hrant Dink was killed on Jan. 19, 2007,” every few paragraphs. It reminds us of that fact frequently because we need to remember it frequently. We should never forget this fact, and we will not. If we forget this, the Ergenekon case will lose its importance. Turkey’s democratization process has been directly linked with Hrant’s murder. Nobody should forget that Hrant was killed on Jan. 19, 2007. Anybody who has real love for her or his country should remember this. We love this country. We love Anatolia, where our grandparents lived. When I go to Anatolia, I want to feel the land so much that I walk barefooted there. I don’t even do that in my home in İstanbul. I am 75 years old, and I have many diseases, from hypertension to diabetes, but I get better when I am in Anatolia. My blood pressure drops even though I eat salty cheese and rich foods there.
Would Dink go to Anatolia as well?
Seropyan: He would sometimes, but he did not have much time to do so. Before he was murdered, he took frequent trips abroad. He would be called to speak at conferences. He received his passport only a few years before his murder because he had been banned from exiting the country due to his leftist political activities in his youth.
‘Official policies no longer convince people’
Do you think Dink’s murder played a role in increasing empathy in Turkish society toward Armenians?
Estukyan: Yes, it did. In the background of that empathy, there is the fact that the state’s official policies were no longer convincing for people. If the state had not adopted policies of denial, Dink’s murder could have been just another killing of a journalist. But at the moment that he was killed, 72 million in Turkey knew that he was killed because he was an Armenian. Why him but not other Armenians? Because he was telling the truth. The funeral ceremony clearly showed people’s reactions.
Do you think those feelings of empathy still exist?
Estukyan: The initial euphoria died out after a while, but such events can be turning points in people’s lives. I saw a reflection of this in a column by Taraf writer Hilal Kaplan, who referred to Dink as “Hrant Abi” [Brother Hrant]. She wrote that she was deeply affected by two events in her life: One is that she went to the university she wanted but was expelled because of her headscarf, and the second one is the murder of Dink. She further explained why she refers to Dink as “Hrant Abi,” someone she did not even know before his death. She wrote that she read all of Dink’s writings after his murder and felt close enough to call him “Hrant Abi” and that she feels so sorry that she never met him. By attending his funeral ceremony, she wrote, she felt like she was doing a meaningful thing in her life. Therefore, we can say that some people, especially intellectuals, have had similar experiences. But back to your question, if we are talking about the general public, I don’t think that that is the case. Some people who were at Dink’s funeral three years ago now think that the investigation into generals under the Ergenekon case is a scam by Islamists. There are paradoxes in Turkish society.
Since Dink traveled abroad before his death and his ideas were being closely observed, how was he perceived there?
Estukyan: With surprise, because he was an unconventional man. He would say that Turks are very good people but the state policies were fascist. For a typical Armenian who has never been to Turkey or never had contact with a Turk, that was not acceptable because he or she would think of Turks and the Turkish state as one. One positive that came out after Hrant’s death is that Turks and Armenians in Germany and France came together for memorial activities. Ever since Turkish people moved to Germany as workers — and there were some Armenians among them — Turkish and Armenian associations have avoided organized social activities together. So it is significant that they do this now. It is the success of Hrant’s words, which have been internalized by some people.
Seropyan: Turkey has recently been talking about Mehmet Ali Ağca’s [who murdered Turkish journalist Abdi İpekçi and attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II] release. I noticed on television last night that cameras showed Abdi İpekçi Street, and I asked myself why the İstanbul City Council chose not to rename Şafak Street, where Hrant was murdered, “Hrant Dink Street.” There have been comical explanations for that by the city council, including that postmen would have difficulties finding the street if its name were changed. This happened despite the fact that the İstanbul mayor comes to our commemorative activities for Hrant. There were similar problems when we had an initiative to construct a subtle memorial at the place where Hrant was murdered. I refer to this because your question was in regard to perceptions in Europe. In Marseilles, there are 16 streets named after influential Armenian people. There is also a street in Marseilles bearing Hrant’s name. In Paris, there is a school named “Hrant Dink.” In Armenia, there is a lecture room at a university named “Hrant Dink.”
Friends of Hrant ask: Who killed Hrant Dink?
“And let us give the answer. It was an ‘official’ collective will that killed Hrant. Those who hold this will are brutal, coward and deceitful. They cannot come to light; they cannot dare to show themselves.
“Remember the ‘Cage’ plot unearthed in the depths of the deep state. Remember how Hrant’s murder was defined as an ‘operation.’
“They are also trying to take us into their darkness, us — the friends and lovers of Hrant demanding justice. They want to leave us breathless in the dust of court files, they want us to get weary of following the trials, they want us to feel despair in our pursuit of justice. We will not do so. We cannot afford it.”
‘Turkish-Armenian relations will normalize’
When Agos was found in 1996, one of its goals was to contribute to the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. Do you still have hopes for that as there are steps in that regard?
Seropyan: Those are delayed steps. I was more hopeful at the beginning but not now. On both sides, the nationalist forces are too powerful, and they are not even warm to the idea of having good neighborly relations, let alone being friends. The opposition says that everything the governments are doing in the process is wrong and they are right!
I would like to turn to Mr. Estukyan at this point and ask his opinion on the same issue. Are you hopeful that relations will improve with Armenia?
Estukyan: I am hopeful, even though I agree with Sarkis that politicians are not usually sincere and the opposition does not help either. But I am hopeful because the world is changing in such a way that there is a requirement for the resolution of old problems, especially in the Caucasus. In the past, only military power and military pacts have been important in this strategically important part of the world. But now the issue is about the region’s energy resources, transportation routes and how they can be safe and secure. Armenia and Turkey are both in the region, and a conflict in that area would not contribute to development and the transfer of energy resources. The West apparently does not want to take that risk, and both the United States and the European Union think the same way.
Do you think the international community will also help eliminate problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan?
Estukyan: It has to. It has to do that in order to end the conflicts in the region that are causing instability.
Seropyan: I’d like to add that I don’t find politicians sincere, but eventually the borders will be opened and people will interact more. From the founding of the Turkish Republic until very recently, Turkish authorities have declared that “Turkey is surrounded by enemies.” How has it been possible that Turkey has been on bad terms with all of its neighbors? This is changing now in a positive direction. Are all the neighbors of Turkey now good but Armenia? This will change, too.
Both Agos editors say Hrant was unique
Sarkis Seropyan, one of the founding members of Agos, worked closely with Hrant Dink as an editor until his murder on Jan. 19, 2007. Pakrat Estukyan has been an editor at Agos for two years and writes for the Armenian pages. Both editors say Dink was so different and unconventional that people would have difficulty categorizing him in one group or another.