Turkey Still in Shock After Assassination of Journalist

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Turkey’s press conveyed the nation’s sense of shock, shame and self-reflection on Saturday, a day after a journalist and Armenian community leader was assassinated at the entrance to his bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper.

The killer and motives for the murder of Hrant Dink were unknown early Saturday, and Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu said no suspects were in custody. Istanbul’s governor, however, said authorities had evidence that would allow them to solve the case.

Dink, who gained notoriety after he was put on trial for saying that the mass killing of Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century was genocide, was shot and killed Friday in broad daylight. He had received numerous threats before his murder, and wrote in his last newspaper column that he was so worried about attacks that his head swiveled like a pigeon’s as he moved around Istanbul.

Many Turkish newspapers ran a photograph of what was said to be the killer, a photo captured on a security camera from behind. The image revealed few details about the man’s appearance.

Turkey’s press was unanimous Saturday morning in claiming as their own a man whose life in Turkey was largely defined by his being labeled a traitor and an enemy to his country.

Turkish officials promised to release details of the killing, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went on national television at least three times to speak about the murder.

“The bullets aimed at Hrant Dink were shot into all of us,” he said Saturday. Within hours of Dink’s murder, the prime minister had sent his interior minister and justice minister to Istanbul to lead the investigation.

The state-owned Anatolia news agency reported that Istanbul’s chief of police and other unit chiefs spent the night at police headquarters.

Most Turks assumed the shooting was a reaction to Dink’s public statements that the mass killings of Armenians around the time of World War I constituted genocide. Nationalists see such statements as insults to the honor of Turks and as threats to national unity.

Whatever the motivation, the killing made it clear that Turkey remains a place where people speak freely at their own peril, despite generations of Western-looking liberal reforms and the nation’s commitment to joining the European Union.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Turkey was the eighth deadliest country in the world for journalist, with 18 killed in the past 15 years for their work. Turkey’s Zaman newspaper said 62 journalists have been assassinated in the nation’s 84-year history.

Dink, 52, was often subjected to more subtle attempts to silence him. He was one of dozens of journalists, writers and academics who have gone on trial for expressing their opinions here, most under the infamous article 301 of the penal code, which makes it a crime to insult Turkey, its government or the national character.

In the most famous case, Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk faced jail time last year for insulting Turkey by saying Turks had killed a million Armenians. His case was dropped on a technicality.

Dink clearly sensed his life was in danger.

“My computer’s memory is loaded with sentences full of anger and threats,” he wrote on Jan. 10 in his last newspaper column. “I am just like a pigeon. … I look around to my left and right, in front and behind me as much as it does. My head is just as active.”

In the past few years, Turks had come to know Dink well, mostly because of the high-profile cases opened against him. In late 2005, Turks saw him lose his composure, crying on television as he discussed his latest court case and what it was like to live amid people who hated him.

A Turkish citizen, Dink said he would stay here, however, in the hopes that cases he opened at the European Court of Human Rights would be resolved in his favor, and do something to improve his country.

Turkey’s relationship with its Armenian community has long been fraught with tension, controversy and painful memories of a brutal past.

Much of Turkey’s once-sizeable Armenian population was killed or driven out beginning around 1915 in what an increasing number of countries are recognizing as the first genocide of the 20th century.

Turks vehemently deny that their ancestors committed genocide, however, and saying so is tantamount to treason. In the 1970s and 1980s, tensions were further inflamed as dozens of Turkish diplomats were killed by Armenian assassins seeking revenge.

Turkey, which is 99 percent Muslim, and Armenia, which claims to be the first country to officially adopt Christianity, share a border. But the border is closed, and the two countries have no formal diplomatic relations.

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