BY NOURITZA MATTOSIAN AND DANIEL HOWDEN
From The Independent
July 4, 2007
A small, sweltering courtroom in Istanbul has become the focal point for an intense examination of Turkey’s democratic freedoms and the independence of its judiciary.
On trial inside the room yesterday were 14 defendants accused of involvement in the murder of the campaigning journalist Hrant Dink. The doors will stay closed to the media, because the person accused of pulling the trigger in a murder that shook Turkey is a 17-year-old boy.
Outside, thousands gathered with banners proclaiming solidarity with the dead Turkish-Armenian writer: "We are all still Hrant Dink,"We want to see justice done." Many Turks are convinced that a so-called "deep state"–a network of state agents or former officials, possibly with links to organized crime–periodically targets reformists and other perceived enemies in the name of nationalism.
Yesterday, lawyers representing the Dink family called on the court to broaden its investigation beyond the current suspects, all from the northern Turkish city of Trabzon. Already, two of the key suspects, Yasin Hayal and Erhan Tuncel, claimed they worked for the security forces, while the alleged teenage gunman, Ogun Samast, has remained silent during the trial.
To his supporters, Dink was a modern Turkish hero: "He symbolizes free speech," said one supporter. An Armenian orphan who had grown up in the most deprived conditions he endured racial discrimination and fought for the dignity and rights of minorities. He used this platform to campaign for entry into the EU, friendship between Turks and Armenia’s, free speech and a free press. Dink became the target of thousands of death threats, and was harassed by six charges under the infamous Article 301 for "insulting Turkishness.”
Mr. Dink’s lawyers have claimed that senior officials, whose names should have appeared in court papers, have been withheld and evidence such as CCTV tapes of the killing have been removed. One of the suspects, Erhan Tuncel, claimed in court that police intelligence refused to respond to his warnings that the killing was being planned: "They did not get in touch with me, saying they were busy."
The trial, which will be resumed in October after initial hearings, takes place in the shadow of impending elections. The ruling AK party of the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been attacked by liberals; and nationalists have attacked the government variously for inertia in the Dink case, or for pandering to the Armenian minority.
In a moving appeal to the judge, Dink’s widow, Rakel, said: "You are not of this darkness, please be brave enough to investigate fully so that the end of the trial will mark a new enlightenment for Turkey. I forgive those people, but I want the state to clear this case fully for the future generations."
There was upheaval in court when Kemal Aytac, one of the defendant’s lawyers, attacked the Dink family with nationalist insults and called them "traitors.” Mr. Dink’s daughter, Baydzar, left the courtroom in tears.
As Orhan Dink, Hrant’s brother, said in his testimony: "We, as the family of Hrant, never will be winners or losers of this case. The outcome of this case, instead, will prove whether Turkey will be the winner or loser."
Dink saw his death coming
Hrant Dink was born in 1954 in south-east Turkey, the former heartland of Turkish Armenia.
After graduating from university, he ran a bookshop with his brothers. Then in 1996 he founded Agos (Ploughed Furrow), the weekly magazine published in Armenian and Turkish that made him famous.
He became a pivotal figure in Turkey, speaking out about democracy, human rights and free speech as well as minority rights. But he became deeply unpopular with Turkey’s so-called "deep state,” the secret alliance of ultra-nationalist bureaucrats, lawyers and criminals, and his stubborn declarations of Turkish guilt for the Armenian genocide resulted in frequent persecution.
In October 2005, he was given a six-month sentence for "insulting Turkishness,” a verdict he described as "a bad joke."
He saw his death coming. Days before his assassination he wrote: "For me, 2007 is likely to be a hard year… Hundreds of threats via phone calls, emails and letters are pouring down… It is obvious that those wishing to single me out and render me weak and defenseless have achieved their goal."