We are all Hrant Dink. That was the appropriate, if not very accurate, placard held aloft by tens of thousands of mourners last month when Istanbul buried its famed and defamed slain hero.
Dink was an Armenian-Turkish editor of the weekly newspaper Agos, but it was not as an editor that he won lasting honours. He will be remembered by Armenians as the gentle usher on the bridge from Istanbulâ€™s Armenian community to its Turkish commonwealth and ambassador to both from the democratic dream. He should be remembered by all as an intellectual warrior leading the fight against censorship.
Even the Turkish government, which convicted Dink in 2005 of â€œinsulting Turkishnessâ€ for writing about the Armenian genocide of 1915, splashed its imperial tears - sourced in self-pity though they were. From the governmentâ€™s perspective, the confessed killer, 17-year old Ogun Samast, had just issued an inconvenient press release on the eve of Turkeyâ€™s accession talks with the European Union. â€œI shot the infidel,â€ Samast reportedly yelled after shooting Dink in the back. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoganâ€™s strange lament on â€œthe attack on our peace and stabilityâ€ bemoaned not the dead Armenian, but the afternoonâ€™s collateral casualty: the illusion of Turkeyâ€™s democratic revival.
When I first saw Dink in November 2006 at a lecture in Los Angeles, he was chatting his way politely through a crowd of Armenians. The gray-haired and spectacled journalist looked at home in the mass, treating each nameless face with refreshed interest and respect. But what first seemed a fitting capture of his timid mannerism, the surname â€œDinkâ€ was really a highly misleading onomatopoeia. Underneath the gentle erudite exterior was the chiselled soul of a warrior.
By large margin, Armenian communities had celebrated Franceâ€™s bill last year to criminalise denial of the Armenian genocide. But Dink, a luminary of genocide recognition, explained to his compatriots why the bill (still not law) was wrong, why freedom of speech and truth must be championed together â€” the first upheld to guarantee the permanence of the second. Damned by Turkey for crying the truth and damned by some Armenians for tying truth to justice, the man who stood alone was right. The 100,000 attendees at Dinkâ€™s funeral were the final proof that censorship could not cover Turkeyâ€™s lie â€” and it would not protect Armeniaâ€™s truth. But in life, against the myopia of his people abroad and the brute fascism of his countrymen at home, Dink held out hope.
On one end, the Turkish state insists on being angered at Dinkâ€™s assassin, as its laws continue to punish speech and its textbooks stifle truth. On the other, freethinking Turks joined their Armenian countrymen at the funeral of their unlikely insurgent who, now passed, no longer stands alone. A combustion is coming. It is Dinkâ€™s legacy that he yelled fire in Istanbul and charged the world with extinguishing it. â€” The Christian Science Monitor