The following is a reflection piece by screenwriter, filmmaker, and photojournalist Eric Nazarian on the 10th commemoration of Hrant Dink’s assassination, which took place in Istanbul on Jan. 19.
Special for the Armenian Weekly
On Jan. 15, 1929, a son was born to a pastor and a teacher who would change the course of American Civil Rights history. He became a beacon of humanity in the 20th century. His name was Martin Luther King, Jr.
Seventy-eight years later, on Jan. 19, 2007, an Armenian newspaper editor and journalist half a world away named Hrant Dink, would be assassinated for trying to turn a new page in Turkish society; for advocating for human and minority rights, equality, and tolerance; and for facing up to the nation’s bloody past injustices—just like Dr. King.
The lives of these two men were far apart in geography and historical context, yet their destinies were braided by the struggle for civil and human rights that defined them. This week marks Dr. King’s 88th birthday and the 10th year since the tragic assassination of Mr. Dink. Both men died trying to achieve some shred of peace, justice, equality, civil rights, and faith in democracy. Both became symbols of peaceful resistance and overcoming intolerance, inequality, hatred, and bigotry. Both cast a giant light on the generation they inspired to continue the struggle for change.
After generations of bloodletting, Dr. King’s dream came true for America. The same cannot be said of Mr. Dink’s generation in Turkey. Ten years on, Turkey has pummeled into a downward spiral of civil strife, endless massacres, and the blowback of the Islamic State that continues to wreak havoc on civilians through a series of brazen attacks leaving scores dead. In the midst of these strange, dark times, today, thousands came forward in the grey light of this January melancholic day in Istanbul to stand together in the name of what Hrant gave his life for—the hope for a new society seeded in true democracy that has now been shattered in the wake of the war in Syria next door; the attempted coup d’état in July; the assassination of the Russian ambassador; and the New Year’s day massacre that left 39 dead and scores wounded. Tragically, this is only a partial roll call of horrors transpiring in the last six months, including Turkey holding court now for the most jailed journalists in the world.
There are more than enough reasons to throw up one’s hands in despair and walk away. But that will never be the solution.
Today, we gather outside the offices of Agos. Everyone I see on the street carries respect, solidarity, and uncertainty in their eyes, etched with the ambivalence of average folk wrestling to break out of the chokehold that the beasts of chaos have unleashed on this society in the wake of the horrors that have befallen Turkey and the region for the past few years.
Turks, Kurds, Armenians gather—strangers side-by-side—braving the cold amidst the loudspeakers, carrying the round black signs that read “We are all Hrant. We are all Armenian.” They want their voices to count for something. We will not remain silent.
Mrs. Rakel Dink delivered a beautiful, painful, and magnificent heart-wrenching speech in memory of her beloved Hrant and the events that have happened during these past ten years that remain unfathomable. Her courage, resolve, love, and commitment to continue Hrant’s struggle and all he sacrificed for echo far and wide across Istanbul, Turkey, and the world.
In the face of some of the most disastrous five years, with innumerable crimes against humanity being committed every day against civilians in Aleppo, Paris, Istanbul, Orlando, Diyarbakir, and so many other places… what will the endgame be? When is the darkest hour before dawn as we continue to adjust our eyes to nocturnal vision for the long haul? In the face of despair, hoping against hope in the name of the human values that define us as a species is what Hrant represents today, yesterday, and tomorrow.
Dr. King said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” That staircase keeps spiraling into a darker era. Today and tomorrow remain deeply uncertain. Families of the dead grieve in towns and villages near and far as the rain drizzles away and we pray, eyes cast to the cold pavement where Hrant was taken 10 years ago. Ten years or a century, every day that passes, Hrant’s legacy is one of the few remaining lights in this darkening era that will continue to sustain and nourish the hearts and souls of so many people who believe in change, peace, humanity, honesty and solidarity. These words sound fossilized and arcane nowadays, but they are all we have if we are to survive and wake up every day with the resolve for each of us to make a change in some small way. After the tragedy of what happened here 10 years ago, Hrant became the “Martin Luther King, Jr. of Turkey,” as so many refer to him. Destiny wrote the beginning and the end of these two men’s lives into the same week, generations apart.
Beloved Hrant, words will forever pale to evoke the magnitude of love and hope you blessed with so many who crossed your path. May you always speak to us through the dark as the dreamer, the father, the brother, the son, the friend, and the mentor you continue to be, sheltering us with your ancient spirit and larger than life laughter that remains emblazoned in the hearts and souls you graced around the world with your friendship and sincerity. Rest in eternal peace beloved Hrant. We are here, still lighting candles against the dark.