Hrant Dink, another martyr for free speech

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
August 17, 2007 Friday



Last year, I was part of a contingent of journalism fellows who met
with Hrant Dink in his cramped office at Agos, a Turkish-Armenian
newspaper in Istanbul. When we said goodbye, we didn’t know we were
bidding farewell to a brave journalist who would be assassinated by a
17-year-old Turkish nationalist.

The Knight-Wallace Fellows from University of Michigan milled on the
very same sidewalk that, almost a year later, was a crime scene.

On Jan. 19, Ogun Samast, a high school dropout from a Black Sea
fishing village, followed the outspoken commentator as he left his
office. "I approached him from behind and shot him from one meter
away," Mr. Samast reportedly said in a detailed confession that made
no concession to remorse. After Friday prayer services, Mr. Samast
considered it an act of devotion to his homeland to shoot Mr. Dink
(pronounced "deenk"), a 53-year-old father of three.

Ogun Samast’s actions so mortified and shamed his devout Muslim
family that his father allegedly provided the tip that led to his
arrest days after the shooting.

When Mr. Samast was cornered by the cops at a bus station the next
day in a nearby seaside village, he was still carrying the gun
allegedly used to kill Hrant Dink.

Mr. Samast told interrogators that Mr. Dink’s columns alleging
Turkey’s guilt in the genocide of thousands of Armenians in 1915
infuriated him. After reading several of his articles online, Mr.
Samast decided to kill the Turkish citizen of Armenian descent for
"insulting Turkishness."

After a three-month adjournment, the trial of Mr. Samast and 17 other
conspirators will resume in October. Turkish prosecutors believe the
gunman, who is more illiterate thug than political assassin, is the
spear end of conspiracy orchestrated by ultra-nationalist Turks and
sympathetic police officers. Only eight of 18 alleged conspirators
are in custody.

Many see the upcoming trial as a forum that will pit the rule of law
in Turkey against the nation’s pathological sense of patriotism and
tribal nationalism.

Complicating things is the fact that Mr. Dink had once been convicted
by a Turkish court for "insulting Turkishness" for maintaining
Turkey’s guilt in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of
Armenians. He was given a suspended sentence instead of jail time.

Several well-known Turkish intellectuals and authors — including
Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak, another
writer we met with during our trip to Istanbul — were tried for
violating Article 301 of the Turkish penal code.

Turkey’s insistence that a narrow interpretation of the Armenian
question be upheld could stall its admission into the European Union.
Ironically, Mr. Dink angered Armenians by arguing that the Armenian
question shouldn’t stop Turkey from being admitted to the EU. He
believed Turkey would benefit from exposure to other democracies.


At last week’s National Association of Black Journalists convention
in Las Vegas, presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary
Clinton paid tribute to Chauncey Bailey, editor of the Oakland Post.
He was slain earlier this month by a 19-year-old handyman at an
Oakland bakery run by a Black Muslim sect. Mr. Bailey had been
investigating a story about financial chicanery at Your Black Muslim

During one tribute, my friend Birgit Rieck, the Knight-Wallace
Fellows program administrator, asked if I had ever noticed the eerie
parallels between the Dink and Bailey murders. They were hard to

Hrant Dink, an Armenian of the Eastern Orthodox faith was murdered by
a man who claimed to be a follower of Allah but had very little
compassion in his heart.

Chauncey Bailey, a Roman Catholic, was murdered by a man who called
himself a black Muslim.

Uneducated teenage fanatics with specific grievances committed both
murders. But a larger conspiracy orchestrated by others is believed
to have put both into motion. An antagonism to press freedom and
freedom of conscience fueled by religious passion is at the root of
both assassinations.

Two societies, one Western, the other Muslim — and both secular —
will ask their respective judicial systems to rule that the murder of
reporters is unacceptable.

Everyone has to understand that there are no infidels in the 21st
century — only dissidents.