On the Legacy of Dink, a Dove, an Enemy of the State

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.

Barsoumian delivering her speech (Photo by Aaron Spagnolo)
Barsoumian delivering her speech (Photo by Aaron Spagnolo)

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.

Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian

Nanore Barsoumian was the editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2014 to 2016. She served as assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly from 2010 to 2014. Her writings focus on human rights, politics, poverty, and environmental and gender issues. She has reported from Armenia, Nagorno-Karabagh, Javakhk and Turkey. She earned her B.A. degree in Political Science and English and her M.A. in Conflict Resolution from the University of Massachusetts (Boston).
Nanore Barsoumian

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  1. Hrant Dink died for speaking about the Genocide. As Armenians we should not be indifferent to this. He is our Martin Luther King. I think The Republic of Armenia as well as The Armenian Diaspora should officially commemorate the day he died and should designate it a day of remembrance of a man who fought for truth and justice. Just like we do Vartanantz and Armenian Christmas. He was one of ours and he died for our cause. The only events that Armenians should organize on this date should be in memory of Hrant not Kef dances. The African American community remembers every year Martin Luther King. We should take what they do as an example.

  2. To see such A Crowd United to Chant”
    “We All Are Armenians~ We Are All Hrant Dink”
    Spreading their voices everywhere
    I feel . . . and still, that
    that there are humans on our planet . . .
    from different genes . . . from different faiths
    Feeling for lost lives
    Like for Hrant Dink
    Who cared for peace,
    and asked truthfulness to prevail . . .!

    and I continue to feel, and I weep, and repeat…
    Still there are many humans on this earth—
    They are united to give their voices
    they want everyone with them . . .to share
    Hear and apply truthfulness . . . Justice
    On the lost innocent lives . . .
    Of many others…
    And every where . . .!

    January 21, 2014

  3. Dear Fellow Armenians,

    It is time now to build a statue of Hrant Dink here in Yerevan. I ask all of you where is the best place for a statue in this town ? And furthermore I´d like to know where I can bring my donation for this monument ? I am convinced it has got to be a huge statue to which all Armenians here and worldwide can contribute.
    So lets get started !

  4. Dear Fellow Armenians,

    I guess it is time to think about a monument in Yerevan to honor Hrant Dinks sacrifice. It should be big and placed in the towns center. Where should it be erected and where can we bring our donations so that an artist can start its work. – Hrant Dink deserves it.

  5. “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.” Yes, those bullets have indeed given rise to new Armenian voices out there, who are determined to fight at every possible level against the human rights abuses of Armenians in Turkey. However, I must say that some of these new Armenian voices out there, are not as sweet and peaceful as Dr. Dink was. Instead, they’re more militant and advocate self-defense. After all, when you have a government, as oppressive as Turkey’s, which persistently violates the human rights of its Armenian inhabitants, who happen to also be subjected to constant harassment, as well as frequent violent physical attacks by Turkish nationalists, then it becomes very necessary for the Armenian inhabitants of Turkey to fight back. They’ve been tolerating all this injustice and abuse for so many years, and where has it gotten them? The answer is nowhere! Isn’t it time for a new strategy? Isn’t it time for the Armenians of Turkey to unite together and defend their rights as human beings? It’s certainly time for them to file a human rights abuse lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights against the government of Turkey. As for dealing with those nationalist Turk terrorists, it’s very necessary for Istanbul’s Armenians to form a self-defense organization which will protect their community. The Turkish police will certainly never protect an Armenian. As a matter of fact, the Turkish police support those particular Turk nationalists, who harass, rob, and commit violence against Armenians. For this reason, I find it quite necessary for an Armenian man in Turkey to own a firearm for possible use against any gang of Turk nationalist thugs, who attempt to physically victimize him or his family. In such a case, as a matter of self-defense, an Armenian in Turkey should have every right to spray bullets at the Turkish victimizers. What I’m advocating here, is never wanton violence. What I advocate, is for the Armenians of Turkey to protect themselves by any means necessary, against those nationalist Turk terrorists, who attempt to inflict physical harm upon them. If the law fails to protect a person, then he or she most definitely has the right to protect themself by any means necessary, even it means picking up a firearm and using it against an attacker.

    Anyway, no matter which angle you wish to analyze all this from, this persistent human rights abuse of Turkey’s Armenians, cannot continue on like this. This problem needs to be solved! If it can’t be solved peacefully, then it will be solved violently!

  6. “He is our Martin Luther King.”
    My sentiments, exactly!!!
    Hrant’s memory should be elevated and his courageous deeds elevated, by ALL Armenians, as his blessed work was for our betterment.
    The anniversary of his assination should be a national & religous holiday.

  7. There should be a national holiday celebrating Dink’s death in Turkey too. Mr Dink was an example of a person who promoted healing the wounds between two enemies and may his legacy live on eternally.

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