Journalist fatally shot in Turkey

Writer-editor had pressed government to recognize genocide against Armenians

January 20, 2007|By Tracy Wilkinson and Yesim Borg | Tracy Wilkinson and Yesim Borg,Los Angeles Times

ISTANBUL, TURKEY -- An outspoken journalist who repeatedly clashed with Turkish authorities here over recognition of the early 20th-century slaughter of Armenians was shot to death in broad daylight yesterday on a busy downtown street.

Hrant Dink, who as editor of a Turkish-Armenian newspaper was the leading voice for his ethnic community, died a week after he wrote about threats from unknown forces who he said regarded him "an enemy of the Turks."

Street demonstration

Hundreds of people marched last night from Istanbul's central Taksim Square to the offices of Dink's Agos weekly newspaper, near the spot on a sidewalk where he was shot in the head.

They held candles and posters with his picture; a somber silence was interrupted periodically with applause and chants for "the brotherhood of peoples."

Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler said late yesterday that three people had been detained in connection with the shooting, but no additional details were released.

The killing is likely to further darken Turkey's reputation for repressing critics of the government or of the country's tight control on how its turbulent past is portrayed.

Dink, 52, was part of an elite group of writers and thinkers, including Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk and novelist Elif Safak, who have been tried on charges of insulting their country's "Turkishness" under a controversial and ambiguous law promoted by hard-line nationalists.

Convicted, sentenced

While most, including Pamuk, were cleared, Dink was convicted in 2005 for writing articles that criticized the law and explored questions of Turkish and Armenian identity.

He was sentenced to a six-month term, which was suspended.

Last year, an Istanbul court opened a new case against him after he told a foreign news agency that the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Turks before and during World War I was a genocide.

"Of course I say it was genocide," Dink had said. "With these events you see the disappearance of a people who lived on these lands for 4,000 years."

Owning up to genocide has been for Turkey an especially fraught matter. Turkey maintains that the deaths and expulsions that Armenians say claimed 1.5 million victims at the end of the Ottoman Empire were part of a civil conflict in which both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks were killed.

Dink helped to promote a conference of academics in 2005 who gathered here to examine the era's mass killings. The government attempted to block the conference, and the justice minister accused participants of "stabbing Turkey in the back."

Killing denounced

Yesterday, however, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was among the first to condemn the "traitorous" and "disgraceful" murder of Dink.

"Bullets have been fired at free thought and our democratic life," Erdogan said at a news conference. He urged calm.

European governments, Washington and intellectuals across the globe also deplored the killing.

Yesterday, Turkish television showed copies of letters containing death threats that Dink said he had received in the past year. He said his pleas for official protection went unanswered.

"We will silence you in a way that you will never speak again," one of the letters said.

Tracy Wilkinson and Yesim Borg write for the Los Angeles Times.

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