ARLINGTON, MASS.– Those who stand up against the political majority are often confronted by others who use violence to silence dissent.
That’s what happened to Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor, who was gunned down on the streets of Istanbul almost exactly two years ago, likely because of his writing on the Armenian genocide of 1915.
At the Armenian Cultural Foundation this past Saturday, Hrant’s widow, Raquel Dink, talked of the sorrow that accompanied her husband’s murder, and the possible routes to peace.
“Every time I visit places like this, it reminds me of my pain, my sorrow,” said Raquel through her translator Anna Ohanyan, an assistant professor at Stonehill College. “It’s strange and painful to be in this place.”
Wearing a black suit and white blouse, Raquel spoke in Armenian to the crowd gathered in Arlington in a room where two windows looked out over the snow-covered Upper Mystic Lake.
The talk was sponsored by the Watertown-based Armenian International Women’s Association, and occurred a day before Raquel’s MIT panel discussion with journalists and scholars, sponsored by the Friends of Hrant Dink, which is based in Cambridge.
Raquel met her husband 40 years ago at an orphanage in Turkey. Though they were both ethnically Armenian, neither learned their native language until moving to Istanbul.
A genocide against Armenia’s living within the Ottoman Empire almost 100 years ago nearly obliterated the people and the language. Turkey fiercely denies the genocide.
In 2005, two years before his death, Hrant was arrested for insulting Turkey’s national identity by writing about the genocide, according to a BBC report.
“He stood for his rights ; He tried to challenge the nationalistic tendencies,” said Raquel on Saturday. “It is very difficult to struggle for justice in Turkey, and also very dangerous.”
Raquel said the Armenian Church has helped to preserve Armenian culture in Turkey, but it has faced opposition from the government and individuals. Raquel said church property has been confiscated, and that there is rampant murder and persecution of Armenia’s and Kurds in Turkey — even today.
“All of our stories are somehow connected to 1915,” Raquel said. Memories of the mass killings have been passed down, generation-to-generation, just as culture and language is passed down, said Raquel.
In 1996, Hrant established Agos, a newspaper about Armenia’s and Armenian culture that was written in both Armenian and Turkish.
“This was a way to recreate the Armenian identity in Turkey,” Raquel said. Her husband didn’t want to publish solely in Armenian because he wanted the newspaper to be accessible to Turks who didn’t speak Armenian.
His writings, however, may have been what inspired his killer or killers, according to news articles about the murder. The “alleged gunman and several others have gone on trial,” for the Jan. 19, 2007 murder, according to the AP.
“My husband broke many taboos,” said Raquel, whose family is still involved in publishing Agos.
After her husband of 30 years was murdered, Raquel spoke out, urging for peace and understanding, she said. A deeply religious woman, Raquel said those words came directly from Jesus. Raquel also said that after the killing she cautioned her daughter not to equate the murder of her father with the multitudinous deaths that occurred in 1915, she said. The family of mourners was lucky to have each other, she said.
Raquel wants to continue her husband’s work promoting Armenian culture and bringing Turks and Armenia’s together. Those plans include a Hrant Dink institute to study Armenian culture, a forthcoming archive of Hrant’s writing, and possibly a space dedicated to bringing Turkish and Armenian people together for soulful talks.