Armenian editor assassinated in Turkey

This is what George Bernard Shaw called “the extreme form of censorship.” From the New York Times, Jan. 19:

ISTANBUL — The editor of Turkey’s only Armenian-language newspaper was assassinated today on an Istanbul street.

The editor, Hrant Dink, 53, was convicted last year of insulting the Turkish state and identity because of comments he made about the mass deaths of ethnic Armenians before World War I in what is now Turkey — events that Armenians and many foreign historians say was genocide by the Ottoman army, but the Turkish government denies took place.

Mr. Dink also criticized ethnic Armenians abroad for trying to make official Turkish recognition of those events a precondition for Turkish entry into the European Union, but that stance attracted less attention.

Mr. Dink was leaving the office of his newspaper, Agos, in the Sisli district of Istanbul early in the afternoon when he was gunned down in front of the building by one or more assailants, the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported today.

Nuran Agan, 47, a colleague of Mr. Dink’s at Agos, sounded shaken as she described an ordinary day before he left the office. “I heard three gunshots after he left, but never associated it with him,” Ms. Agan said.

When she rushed downstairs to find out what had happened, she saw Mr. Dink lying in a pool of blood on the ground with a bullet wound in the back of his head.

“He received lots of threats, and had requested protection.” Ms. Agan said.

Television images broadcast live from the scene of the incident showed large crowds gathered nearby behind police cordons, and Mr. Dink’s body lying on the ground, awaiting the arrival of ambulances delayed by the traffic clogging the busy commercial district around the office.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a written statement condemning the attack. Later in the day, the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said in a broadcast news conference that the killing was a direct attack on Turkey’s peace and stability.

“A bullet was fired at freedom of thought and democratic life in Turkey,” Mr. Erdogan said.

Witnesses told the police that they saw a young man in a white cap running away immediately after the shots were fired, according to a news report on NTV television. The police said they had detained two suspects in central Istanbul in connection with the attack.

Mr. Dink was prosecuted late last year under Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, a controversial provision that makes negative remarks about Turkishness or the Turkish state a crime. It has been used to try several prominent intellectuals in recent years, and has been criticized by the European Union as an infringement on free speech.

An Istanbul court interpreted several comments Mr. Dink made as an insult to the Turkish identity. It sentenced him to six months in jail and then suspended the sentence.

In a recent article in Agos, Mr. Dink complained that extreme nationalists opponents were casting him as an enemy of Turks, and said the increasing threats against him were weighing on him.

“I do not know how real these threats are, but what’s really unbearable is the psychological torture that I’m living in,” he wrote. “Like a pigeon, turning my head up and down, left and right, my head quickly rotating.”

Haluk Sahin, a columnist for Radikal, a newspaper that has strongly supported Mr. Dink’s legal struggle as an intellectual, said that Turkey had been hit right in the heart by his murder.

“Those who wanted to harm Turkey couldn’t have chosen a better target,” Mr. Sahin said. “As opposed to other killings in the past, Turkish public reaction against this murder will show us where Turkey stands in the world.”

Shortly after the shooting, crowds gathered in front of Mr. Dink’s office and chanted “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism” and “We are all Hrant, we are all Armenians.”

NTV reported that the police are reviewing surveillance-camera videotapes from retail shops in the block in the hope that they recorded images of the suspects described by witnesses.

See our last posts on Turkey, free speech struggles and the Armenian struggle.