On Jan. 19, Armenian Weekly Assistant Editor Nanore Barsoumian delivered the following speech during a memorial event hosted by the Friends of Hrant Dink at St. James Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown, Mass.
Three gun shots brought him down. His lifeless body sprawled on the pavement—a scene that would later haunt millions. It took three shots to silence a man that had dared to insult Turkishness. Another Armenian executed. Purged. Another dream interrupted.
Murder—that hateful murder—breathed in Istanbul. And that day, it came for Hrant Dink in Istanbul. The shots echoed, piercing the Istanbul air. An echo that traveled door to door, reverberating the black news of a horrific death—and the concealed past. It took three bullets to draw thousands out—thousands who bore witness to the punishment for speaking out.
The Armenian—one of the few Armenians in Turkey with a platform—Killed. Killed because he was an Armenian in Turkey with a platform and a voice. For many who chose to understand, a faint stench from the 1.5 million corpses traveled through time and space. They saw a body through a peephole, and they knew it was lying in a sea of bodies—bodies from Ayntab, Kghi, Van, and Kars.
But as those bullets tried to silence Hrant’s truth—the opposite became true. His truth exploded, infecting others near and far. Instead of silencing one man, those bullets gave rise to a multitude of voices, of promises to continue his work.
Dink—a man with a mellow expression and a kind smile—was a nightmare to some in Turkey. He was feared, even as he saw himself as a frightened dove.
Once, when an interviewer asked Dink about his work and Agos, his response was simple. To fight and to protect—those were my primary aims when founding Agos, he said. Grvil yev bashdbanel. “We would fight against our government, against its injustices toward us,” he said. “[We would] hurl those injustices at its face. We would fight to demand our rights… to demand our history… to become a more democratic country, to be good citizens…”
And to fight that injustice, Dink used the Turkish language. He published 10 of the 12 pages of Agos in Turkish, just two in Armenian. He wanted to reach a Turkish-speaking audience. And so, at the time of that interview in 2006, a sizable portion of his subscribers—roughly 1 in 6—were Turks. Agos highlighted Armenian stories in Turkey—most notably, stories on hidden Armenians. Dink’s approach was hard to counter. There were the smear campaigns, the court trials, and the death threats. None of which thwarted his mission. He was persistent.
This past November, the Hrant Dink Foundation organized a conference in Istanbul. A conference that focused on what some call Hrant’s obsession: The story of the Islamized Armenians.
The story of the Armenian Genocide is not complete without the story of those who were left behind. The story of forced conversions; of the hidden Armenian identity, of the thousands of children who were forced to stay behind—parentless, and at the mercy of the perpetrator state.
But in telling these stories, there also lies hope. And since Hrant’s murder, that unspoken volume began to unravel. Stories began to be told.
These stories are abundant—they are everywhere, and they need to be told.
When we met the old saddle-maker in Elazig—near Kharpert—he needed to tell us his story. Sitting in his small, bare shop off a narrow cobble-stoned alley, he offered us tea as he searched our eyes and revealed his mother’s Armenian identity. He said, “I am one of you.”
These stories need to be told because that is how we can shed light on a dark past… on our identity.
We met the mayor of a small village while we admired a stork that had built a nest on a tree just across from his doorstep. He led us to the roof of his house. He said we could better admire the bird from there. When he discovered we were Armenian, he insisted we stay for breakfast. Both my grandmothers were Armenian, he said.
Hrant encountered stories like these on a regular basis. Even more importantly, he believed there were well over a million hidden Armenians in Turkey.
We chose to remember the harrowing details of the Genocide—the details that were speakable—but we chose to forget the unspeakable crimes. We chose to remember the killings, the starvation, the death marches—and not the rapes, kidnappings, and enslavement. For years, we spoke of the dead and the survivors. Not those that fell in that gray space. The ones that stayed behind. We need to allow those narratives to find a space in our story. And in recent years, we started to. Hrant Dink’s role was great in this. The more he pursued and publicized those stories, the more stories came to him. Agos became a messenger, and it inspired others.
At the same time, Turks and Kurds—witnesses to the Armenian reality—also began to speak up, to share their stories, to take a stand against the denial of truth. Their voices are invaluable.
Why is it important to remember Hrant Dink?
With Turkification as a deliberate running policy in the country, the likes of Hrant are perceived as enemies of the state. But in fact, they mirror the failure of the state. Hrant died while struggling for justice, while trying to cultivate openness in a society where myths are abundant, where history and myth are congruent, where he and his like are vilified, and forced to disappear.
Hrant’s life, work, and death shot like an arrow through the heart of Turkey. His legacy speaks to us all—to Armenians everywhere, hidden or not. To Turks and Kurds who yearn to live in a just society. Hrant’s is a legacy of optimism and persistence. It’s a legacy of struggle and hope.