May 7, 2012
We first met at a panel discussion organised by the Helsinki Citizens Assembly. I think it was towards the end of 1999. I don’t like being invited to such events as an “Armenian”. I feel humiliated, as though my ideas or character have no value, as thoughthe only interest I offer is as a representative of the Victim – or of the Foreigner, or of the gooey Dolma-Topik[*] Brotherhood. My contribution to the panel included a fierce declaration about Turkish identity that looked at the meanings of the word “Turk” in the official discourse of the republic. Hrant, on the other hand, spoke for the “Armenian” contingent. He spoke well; he spoke from the heart. There was nothing in what he said with whichI didn’t agree. But there was something I found off-putting, though I can’t quite put my finger on what that something was. Perhaps his sentimental tone just wasn’t for me. Sentimentality is for the weak. Why should I wear a guise that puts me in the position of the weak? Why should I seek the pity of others?
None of this was an issue for the Turkish guests, of course. The man was a victim and he carried his victimhood with pride. He held out the hand of friendship. What more could they want? Tayyip Erdoğan was in the audience. At that time he had just been released from prison and didn’t yet hold any title. I don’t remember whether or not he applauded.
Hrant was doing commendable work at Agos, producing Turkey’s best weekly newspaper with a young and inexperienced team. This paper was being produced by the Armenian community with a population of fifty thousand; if a similar paper was produced in a few towns around the country with the same population, Turkey would be a real paradise! But I still couldn’t rid myself of that feeling gnawing away inside me. The emotional bond he tried to develop with the Turks through the recognition of mutual oppression wasn’t something that appealed to me. I’m oppressed, you too are oppressed. So who, then, is the oppressor? The imperialist West! Too simple a solution if you ask me. Why on earth should I be the oppressed? I find it easier to pity the oppressor.
On 28 December 2006 we met at another panel discussion. He had been receiving threats and was extremely nervous. He didn’t look well. During the lunch break I pulled him aside for a chat. Even if you’re afraid, you mustn’t show it. You have to hold your head up high. If you they see you’re frightened the dogs will attack even more fiercely; bark back and they’ll run away.
I invited him to Şirince for a few days’ rest. He said he couldn’t come straight away but that he’dtake me up on my offer towards the end of January and bring Etyen [Mahçupyan].“I’ll invite the patriarch and we’ll play a few rounds of poker,” I joked. He had some issue with the patriarch that I didn’t really get. “Do that and I’ll kill you,” he said, wagging his finger at me. And off he went.
Perihan Mağden was speaking in the afternoon session. “The Republic of Turkey doesn’t have an Armenian problem, it has a Hrant problem,” she joked. Cengiz Çandar was sitting beside her; he took the microphone and added, “And I guessit also has a Sevan problem.”This made some in the audience laugh.
The bullet that devastated the Republic of Turkey
On the day of the murder I was just a few hundred metres from the scene of the incident. The news spread within ten or fifteen minutes. I could almost feel the pain and anger as it swept through the city in waves, like a tremor that swells from the depths. It struck me too. Damn! This country is unbearable! But it was idiocy to ever have thought any differently.
I went to the Agos offices.I had no doubtthen as to who had committed the murder, and I still don’t now. One of the television crews pointed a camera at me. I said that anyone in Turkey with a brain knew who the killers were, but no one would dare to say it out loud. Outside, a group of young lefties were shouting slogans: “capitalism kills”, “down with imperialism”, etc., etc. “Their job is to draw attention away from the real culprit,” I thought, “it must be child’s play for those who planned the murder to rally a hundred young hooligans.”
The most devastating thing wasn’t the murder itself. At the end of the day we’re all going to die, and three bullets to the back of the head is far from the worst way to go. What was truly devastating were the barely suppressed smirks on the faces of the government yes-men on our TV screens. Former minister Hasan Celal Güzel and a few others stood up to say that the murder may have been committed “by Armenian circles” in order to cause problems for Turkey. Someone else pointed out that Samast “wasn’t a Turkish surname,” implying that he might be the agent of degenerate foreigners. When handed the microphone, members of the public agreed that people should be tolerated or whatever, “even if they are Armenian.” What was Turkish culture founded on, kids? Tolerance, sir!
And also on brazenness, audacity, immorality and ignorance. But nobody felt the need to speak of these.
On the day of the funeral I listened to Rakel Dink’s impassioned speech:“My friends, nothing can be accomplished without first questioning the darkness that creates a killer from a baby.” This was the crucial point; it’s that simple. The important thing was not to display an outpouring of hatred towards the killer. What was really needed was a questioning of the mentality that gave him that courage; in other words, of that impertinent smirk that smashes to smithereensany concern for morality. Rakel did not reveal its name, but the identity of this darkness was blatantly obvious. When the gunman was made to pose at the police station holding the Turkish flag, the motto in the background of the photo and the signature below it were enough to make it clear.What gave those smirking faces the power to smirk was that sacred name that stood behind them.That name was the symbol of their solidarity.Feeling its strength, they gained the audacity to shamelessly tell all kinds of lies; to proudly carry their eternal ignorance; to label people they had never met as traitors, degenerates and enemies; and, in the name of ideological ambition, to consider conscience and truth as insignificant details.
The darkness that creates a killer from a baby was the founding figure of the Republic of Turkey.
Right country, wrong republic
The funeral procession began in Osmanbey and then filed through Taksim down to Tarlabaşı, crossed the bridge and headed up to Aksaray, before finally reaching Kumkapı. It grew in size as people joined along the route, turning into a monumental human flood. Though I’ve seen many a political rally, I had never before witnessed anything of this kind. No one was there to represent a particular group. No one had been brought along just to swell the numbers. No one had shown up simply for the sake of friends or partners. I solated in their heartfelt pain, silent with the shame of helplessness, hundreds of thousands had come to share this pain and shame.Enough! That day I felt the regime of the Republic of Turkey crack. These people cannot carry that monstrosity any longer. They will not.
Was I fooling myself? Perhaps. Maybe I was looking for the ray of hope that I needed to justify having stayed in Turkey. For thirty years I had disregarded friends and family who, in all their wisdom, told me, “If you stay in this country, they won’t let you live.” I couldn’t now admit that they were right. In order to continue the fight I needed to believe that there was something worth fighting for. Yes, there are things in this country worth defending. Hard as it may be, it is possible to escape from the shadow that has blackened this country’s horizon for ninety years.
In 1994-95 I had written a book about Atatürk, which I then set aside to gather dust on a shelf. It was on that day that I decided to publish it, no matter the consequences. Would they have the guts to carry out another Dink murder? It would be hard!
In spite of the fear
But in that horrible atmosphere of spring 2007, I still didn’t have the courage to publish it right away. I asked Ahmet Altan for advice. It was a few days before the e-memorandum of 27 April.[†]He concluded that I had gone mad and advised me to get out of the country for a while. I paid no attention. I made a bootleg copy of the book. I used the Russian samizdat methods that Joseph Brodsky had taught me at a dinner party some years earlier. You print a fake copyright page so they can’t burn down the printing press. You give it an old publication date so you can benefit from the statute of limitations if there’s a trial.
I handed the book personally to two hundred people whose intellect I trusted. The feedback I received was more positive than I had expected. I gave a series of talks at the headquarters of the GençSiviller (Young Civilians) in Taksim that attracted a lot of interest. I repeated the talks on a wider scale at Bilgi University. The world didn’t come to an end. In May 2008 I finally gathered my courage and the book went on sale.
I had guessed that they would hit below the belt.But still, you can’t imagine quite how low they will stoop. When it actually happens it takes you by surprise.
 Indeed, despite the five years that have passed, no one has dared to openly pronounce any name or rank, not event Hrant’s friends and many admirers.
SevanNişanyan, YanlışCumhuriyet: Atatürk veKemalizm hakkında 51 Soru (The Wrong Republic: 51 Questions about Atatürk and Kemalism), first edition Kırmızı: 2008; fifth and following editions Everest.
[*] TN: Dolmaare stuffed vegetables, common in Turkish cuisine; topikis a traditional Armenian appetiser.
[†] TN: A controversial online statement published in April 2007 by the Turkish military, declaring that the armed forces would defend the country’s secular system. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6602775.stm (accessed 1 June 2015).