Thousands Gather for Funeral of Slain Armenian-Turkish Journalist

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Tens of thousands of people joined a funeral procession Tuesday for Hrant Dink, the Turkish editor of Armenian descent who was shot to death in an attack most Turks assume was motivated by his unpopular views.

The mourners marched five miles from the Istanbul offices of Dink’s weekly Agos newspaper where he was killed on Friday to an Armenian Orthodox church, carrying signs that said “We are all Hrant Dinks” in Turkish and Armenian.

His daughter Sera wept as she walked in front of his sunflower-lined coffin, carrying a picture of her father. Onlookers clapped in tribute as the hearse passed and tossed flowers from windows overhead.

The funeral shut down the center of Istanbul, forcing thousands to walk to work.

Dink’s relatives had asked mourners not to chant slogans or to turn the funeral into a protest, but even so some shouted “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism,” and “Murderer 301.” The latter refers to the notorious Turkish law against statements considered an insult to “Turkishness.” Prosecutors once used it to bring charges against Dink.

Most Turks assume Dink, 52, was targeted for his columns saying the killing of ethnic Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century was genocide. Nationalists consider such statements an insult to Turkey’s honor and a threat to its unity, and Dink had been showered with insults and threats.

Police are questioning seven suspects, including a teenager, Ogun Samast, who has confessed to fatally shooting Dink, and Yasin Hayal, a nationalist militant convicted in the 2004 bombing of a McDonald’s restaurant. Hayal has confessed to inciting the slaying and to providing a gun and money to the teenager, police say.

The suspects also included a university student who allegedly “inspired” the attack, Hurriyet newspaper reported Tuesday. Police confirmed the report but gave no other details.

Prosecutors are investigating possible links to shadowy organizations that may have wanted Dink killed.

Turkey’s relationship with its Armenian minority has long been haunted by a bloody past. Much of its once-influential Armenian population was killed or driven out beginning around 1915 in what an increasing number of nations are calling the first genocide of the 20th century.

Turkey acknowledges that large numbers of Armenians died but vehemently denies it was genocide, saying the overall figure is inflated and the deaths occurred in the civil unrest during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Threats and violence against Turkish editors and reporters are not uncommon. Well-known journalists commonly receive police protection and travel around Istanbul with bodyguards. Dink was alone when he was killed. The government says he did not get close protection because he didn’t ask for it.

In a telephone interview several months before his death, Dink insisted he wanted reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia.

“I had no intention of insulting Turkishness,” Dink told The Associated Press. “My only concern is to improve Armenian and Turkish relations.”

He seemed to have achieved that to a certain extent in his death: Turkey has no diplomatic ties with Armenia but still invited Armenian officials and religious leaders as well as moderate members of the diaspora to the funeral. Armenia sent Deputy Foreign Minister Arman Kirakosian. Hajak Barsamyan, head of the Armenian church in New York, was also to attend.

“You have left ? your loved ones, but you have not left your country,” Dink’s wife, Rakel, said in an emotional speech in front of Agos.

She asked her fellow countrymen to consider how the killers became murderers.

“Seventeen or 27, whoever he was, the murderer was once a baby,” she said. “Unless we can question how this baby grew into a murderer, we cannot achieve anything.”

Hayal served more than 10 months in prison for the 2004 bombing of a McDonald’s restaurant in Trabzon that wounded six people.

At the time Hayal said he learned how to make bombs from Chechen militants in a camp in Azerbaijan and told police he attacked the restaurant “to punish the United States and its collaborators.”

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