Four years after Armenian journalist Hrant Dink’s assassination on a street in Istanbul, I still have not reconciled myself with the “We are all Hrant Dink, We are all Armenian” mantra that thousands in Turkey chanted at Dink’s funeral, and hundreds of writers repeated in the months and years that followed.
Speaking at a Dink memorial event in Boston a few days after his assassination, I was not simply pointing out the obvious when I said that no one is Hrant Dink. I only saw one man—lying bullet-ridden, face down, on the sidewalk. He was alone. Where were all the other Hrant Dinks then?
After that fateful day—out of guilt, anger, or resignation, I do not know—many in Turkey who knew Hrant became more vocal. And many who hadn’t known him now did, and their lives were affected profoundly. Yet, despite the outpouring of emotion and ink, despite the outrage in Turkey and beyond, and despite—or should I say because of—the incessant repetition of “We are all Hrant Dink, We are all Armenian,” Hrant is no less lonely today than he was four years ago on that sidewalk.
After all, the individuals responsible for the crime have not been apprehended, and the person who allegedly pulled the trigger is counting the days until his imminent release. Moreover, Hrant’s name is being employed as a seal of approval and justification for the words and deeds of many of his colleagues and acquaintances—as if having known Hrant exempts one from the responsibilities that come with being a public intellectual.
To cement this edifice of infallibility by association, it was necessary to posthumously grant Hrant himself the status of infallibility. Oftentimes, critique of some of Hrant’s words and deeds has been dismissed categorically, without examination, and considered an insult to his memory. Worse, some progressive writers and activists in Turkey present their projects and products to Armenians, Turks, and the rest of the world by branding them as endorsed by Hrant—and therefore outside the realm of criticism.
No one is Hrant Dink. Even Hrant Dink was sometimes not himself, because one cannot fully be oneself—as a public intellectual and, more importantly, as an Armenian—and get away with it in Turkey, where the pressure to tone discourse down, to criticize and lament within limits, to applaud the most insignificant act of dissidence as the paragon of heroism is overwhelming, insurmountable.
No one, then, is Hrant Dink, and no one, by the way, is Armenian. Lecturing in air-conditioned rooms about the importance of Turkey confronting the past does not equip an intellectual or activist in Turkey today with the right to “share,” “feel,” and “understand” the pain of Armenians, and mourn their destruction and dispossession—let alone be Armenians.
Speaking in Istanbul on April 24 to a group of intellectuals and activists, the one message I tried to convey was the impossibility to share, feel, and understand—and, in the greater scheme of things, its unimportance. The Turkish national economy (milli ekonomi) was built to a considerable extent on the violent dispossession of Armenians. The power asymmetry between Turkey and Armenia today is a product of that dispossession. And the burden of dispossession makes words of sharing, feelings, and understanding ring hollow, no matter how genuine they are.
But there is a way forward. A true engagement with Armenians begins from the point of utter dispossession and humiliation—on the sands of Der Zor. It is time for citizens of Turkey to leave the air-conditioned halls and walk in Der Zor in remembrance and commemoration; and then contemplate meaningful steps of addressing and redressing the Armenian Genocide and its consequences.