Hrant Dink Gunned Down in Istanbul Becomes Victim of Turkey Genocide Denial Policy

ISTANBUL (Reuters, RFE/RL, dpa, AFP)–Hrant Dink, a high-profile Turkish-Armenian editor convicted of insulting Turkey’s identity, was shot dead outside his newspaper office in Istanbul on Friday. Dink, a frequent target of nationalist anger for his commen’s on the mass killings of Armenia’s by Ottoman Turks during World War One, was shot as he left his weekly "Agos" around 1 p.m. local time in central Istanbul. "A bullet has been fired at democracy and freedom of expression. I condemn the traitorous hands behind this disgraceful murder," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said. "This was an attack on our peace and stability." Erdogan told a hastily called news conference in Ankara that two people were detained in connection with the murder. The attack provoked widespread international condemnation, with the European Union urging Turkish authorities to fully investigate the "brutal act of violence." Dink was "a campaigner for freedom of expression in Turkey," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in a statement. "I trust that the Turkish authorities will fully investigate this crime and will bring the perpetrators to justice," Rehn stressed. The United States was also quick to express concern. "Clearly this is a tragic incident," State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters. Casey said that while he has no information on who was responsible and Turkish authorities are still investigating the shooting, Dink’s slaying "does raise some concerns" for the United States. "This was an individual who had received threats for his writing," he said. In Yerevan, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said Armenia, which Dink visited regularly, is "deeply shocked" by the news of the assassination. "We categorically condemn this act, regardless of the circumstances, and call on the Turkish authorities indeed to do everything to identify those responsible," Oskanian said in a statement. The attack is bound to raise political tensions in Turkey, where politicians of all parties have been courting the nationalist vote ahead of presidential elections in May and parliamentary polls due by November. Turkey’s main stock market index fell sharply on the news. NTV television said Dink was shot three times in the head and neck. Muharrem Gozutok, a restaurant owner near the newspaper, said the assailant looked about 20, wore jeans and a cap and shouted "I shot the non-Muslim" as he left the scene. Just before his assassination, Dink had complained of death threats he was receiving from nationalists. “My computer is laden with lines filled with angry threats,” Dink wrote in a Jan. 10 article for Agos. He said he found one letter “extremely worrying” and said police took no action after he complained. Police have arrested two people in connection with the murder, NTV television reported. Police believe a male aged 18 or 19 may have killed Dink, CNN Turk television reported citing unidentified police officials. Protesters outside the "Agos" office on one of Istanbul’s busiest streets chanted "the murderer government will pay" and "shoulder-to-shoulder against fascism". Television footage showed Dink’s body lying in the street covered by a white sheet, with hundreds of bystanders gathering behind a police cordon. "This bullet was fired against Turkey … an image has been created about Turkey that its Armenian citizens have no safety," said CNN Turk editor Taha Akyol. "My blood is frozen," Rober Hadejian, editor of Istanbul’s Armenian-language daily "Marmara" told RFE/RL by phone. "The killing of our colleague is a blow to all of us … Our pain is immense."We have just heard the news and are absolutely shocked," said Sevan Diminjian of "Zhamanak," another Turkish-Armenian daily. Last year Turkey’s appeals court upheld a six-month suspended jail sentence against Dink for referring in an article to an Armenian nationalist idea of ethnic purity without Turkish blood. The court said the commen’s went against article 301 of Turkey’s revised penal code, which lets prosecutors pursue cases against writers and scholars for "insulting Turkish identity". The ruling was sharply criticized by the EU. Dink was one of dozens of writers who have been charged for insulting Turkishness, particularly over the genocide of Armenia’s by Turks during World War One. "He readily accepted requests for interviews from television stations and spoke very bravery on the subject," said Hadejian. "In fact, he was the first Armenian intellectual [in Turkey] who openly used the word genocide."Hrant was a perfect target for those who want to obstruct Turkey’s democratization and its path towards the European Union,"Agos" writer Aydin Engin told Reuters. Dink was editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish and Armenian weekly and one of the most prominent Armenian voices in Turkey. "I will continue my fight by all possible means at all possible levels of courts in Turkey, and up to the European Court," Dink said in an interview with RFE/RL last September. "And if I fail to defend my rights, I’ll leave this country with my family." Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the assassination an attack against “Turkey’s stability.” Turkish stocks fell after the shooting was reported. “This attack against Hrant Dink is against the Turkish nation’s togetherness and peace,” Erdogan said. `A bullet was fired at freedom of thought and democratic life.” Akin Birdal, the former head of Turkey’s Human Rights Association who was shot six times in 1998 in his office by a suspected nationalist, called the shooting “an organized attempt by those who want to destroy Turkey’s European Union aspirations to cast Turkey into darkness.” Police in riot gear surrounded Dink’s office in downtown Istanbul. Forensic teams were combing the pavement outside for clues to the murder.

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