Slain journalist's funeral draws throng of mourners in Istanbul


January 24, 2007|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Tens of thousands of mourners wound through the heart of this ancient city yesterday in the funeral procession for an ethnic-Armenian journalist whose murder triggered soul searching over national identity, freedom of expression and the historical ghosts that shadow Turkey.

Followed by the largely silent throng, a black hearse slowly bore the flower-strewn coffin of editor Hrant Dink to an Armenian Orthodox church, where he was eulogized as a voice of courage and conscience. A teenage nationalist reportedly has confessed to gunning down the 52-year-old journalist on Friday outside his office.

The extraordinary display of public mourning shut down much of downtown Istanbul, whose narrow back alleys and wide boulevards are normally the scene of a raucous commercial free-for-all. Onlookers, many dabbing their eyes, leaned from balconies and watched from doorways as the cortege passed by. Some applauded, in the traditional sign of respect for honored dead.

Dink, a Turkish citizen of Armenian extraction, was best known as an advocate for the rights of the country's Armenian minority - including efforts to win official recognition by Turkey that the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in the final years of the Ottoman Empire constituted the first genocide of the 20th century.

Turkey officially blames the deaths on fighting, cold and hunger rather than any systematic campaign of extermination, a stance that is widely viewed internationally as an obstacle to its aspirations to join the European Union.

Scores of Turkish academics, journalists and novelists, including Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, have been prosecuted under a provision known as Article 301, which contains a wide-ranging ban on "insulting Turkishness." Any public reference to an Armenian genocide, even in carefully couched language, can result in being hauled into court and possibly jailed, as Dink was.

Hours before the daylong funeral rites began, mourners gathered outside the offices of Agos, Dink's newspaper, whose name refers to the nurturing of a seed. Many carried placards saying "We are all Armenians" and "We are all Hrant Dink."

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