The Hrant Dink assassination: A social awakening

Published 20.01.2015 02:00

Hrant Dink was a Turkish Armenian, or if we regard it from Turkey's "Constitutional Citizenship" perspective, he was an Armenian Turk. Already, merging the two words into one and defining oneself via this definition is problematic. Any Armenian living outside Turkey has a very negative perception of the latter, but for more than a century, there has been almost an institutionalized rejection of the "Armenian" in Turkey, and even before Turkey, under the Ottoman Empire, beginning in 1870.

As a matter of fact, the Ottoman Empire should have disappeared, totally dismembered, as early as 1870. However, due to the remarkable vision of the last great sultan of the dynasty, Abdülhamid II, the administration could just about keep large parts of the empire together. The Sublime Porte skillfully manipulated the imperial balance and secured another 40 years of existence. However, it had become obvious even by then that the three main components of Ottoman society - Muslims, Greeks and Armenians - would never live together in peace henceforth. Abdülhamid II is probably the only Ottoman sultan who tried to establish a unified imperial administration covering only the empire's Muslim subjects. His projects failed badly, as Albanians and Arabs of the Arabic Peninsula -especially in Yemen - rose in revolt against the sultan. Nationalisms emerged, and the dismembering of the empire became a terrible ordeal.

Between 1872 and 1923, ethnic cleansing took place in every part of the empire. The Balkan Wars basically removed all the Muslim population of the empire from the region, and the Greeks of Anatolia, the Aegean and Black Sea regions were moved to present-day Greece. The fate of the Armenians was terrible, as their multi-millennial civilization was wiped off the face of its original homelands.

The trouble was, that all these people lived side by side in cities. Greeks mostly had their own quarters in the cities, but not the Armenians. Muslims and Armenians lived almost in symbiosis. Except for purely Armenian villages, there was no real delimitation regarding the places they lived. The emerging nationalisms exacerbated by continuous wars, and the more and more enfeebled authority of the empire created a terrible atmosphere of civil war and pogroms. The Union and Progress movement that deposed the sultan, was motivated in the beginning by the idea that a functioning parliamentary system and political liberties would help them to keep the empire's different populations together. In no time, this naive perspective degenerated into one of the most terrible massacres of the 20th century.

All nations that were born out of the aftermath of the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire have created their own historiography and legitimacy by rejecting their Ottoman past, and by severely criticizing all reference to the last period of the empire. Turkey is no exception to this. Only the ancient, centuries-long glory of the empire is remembered, otherwise all the references to the last sultans, and especially to Abdülhamid II, are colored with disdain and rejection. The "nation-state" is glorified, and in that sense, the constitutional minorities - Greeks, Armenians and Jews - are seen as an irritation. Basically the "state reflexes" in Turkey have been consistently to do everything possible to force minorities to emigrate. It worked with the Greeks who immigrated en masse. Armenians also immigrated to the U.S. and France, but not to the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic for obvious reasons. There are perhaps 50,000 Armenians registered as a minority in present-day Turkey. The real number should be many times more than that, but what has never changed is the attitude of the state apparatus toward them. They remain and feel "unwanted." Hrant Dink, a journalist, was perhaps the only Turkish Armenian to claim his inheritance and his wish to be a "full-fledged citizen." He was assassinated on Jan.19, 2007, and the state administration, together with the judiciary, have done everything to make the murder look as if it was an ordinary, sad event carried out by a couple of fanatics. But this time, society has reacted hugely. Mass demonstrations have turned Dink's funeral into a vast protest movement. Despite the number of reforms undertaken by the government, the Dink murder has remained unsolved, and the government has not dared to really confront the whole state apparatus on this issue. But the protest has not lost its dynamism and the government must sooner or later reveal the truth behind the assassination. It might also help the government in its terrible struggle against the "parallel structure," but without solving the Dink murder, Turkish society will find no respite nor peace.

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