Justice as Joke: The Trial of Hrant Dink’s Murderers

One of the thousands who participated in vigil commemorating Hrant Dink

From The Armenian Weekly

When Hrant Dink was assassinated in front of the Agos newspaper offices in Istanbul, Turkey, five years ago on Jan. 19, 2007, the significance of this heinous act was not immediately understood. Neither the Turkish people nor the Turkish state, “deep” or otherwise, realized that this was not another murder of a journalist, so tragically common in Turkey. No one in Turkey could predict that this murder would become a turning point for Turkey on such far-reaching issues as democratization, freedom of speech, the “deep state,” and Turkish-Armenian relations from the present all the way back to 1915. Although the assassin was caught almost immediately by police, perhaps even leading one to wonder about their prior knowledge, the question of “Who ordered the assassination?” could not be answered five years ago—and cannot be answered now, after five long years of a trial completed just two days before the fifth anniversary of the shooting. It seems, however, that the end of the trial is not the end of this case. The spontaneous support shown by several hundred thousand ordinary people who took to the streets during Hrant’s funeral, is now being repeated after five years, with outrage at the trial verdict and demands for truth.

Why was this trial deemed unfair by the people, by civil society? First, we need to provide context for the general situation in Turkey. For five years, government leaders said the Dink murder was one of many acts by Ergenekon, the “deep state” organization, which organized attacks on minorities, and both Muslim and Christian religious institutions, to create an atmosphere—of anarchy and terror—ripe for a coup d’etat by the military. The murder of Catholic priest Santoro in Trabzon, the murder of three Christian missionaries in Malatya, uncovered plans of mosque and museum bombings, hidden cache of arms, and thousands of communications toward the planning of a coup d’etat have all been presented as incriminating evidence to arrest and imprison several hundred retired and active military leaders, bureaucrats, professors, lawyers, journalists, and businessmen deemed Ergenekon members. After the assassination, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself said to the Dink family, “They are after me as well.”

The police arrested 3 and charged 16 other suspects in connection with the murder. The trial proceeded at a crawling pace, with the Dink family lawyers stonewalled at every session, and a determined group of supporters called “Hrant’s Friends” attending every session demanding justice. Discouraged by the pace of the trial, the Dink family took the case to the European Human Rights Court (EHRC), which promptly assessed and passed its judgment in December 2010: The state had neglected to provide protection for Hrant Dink despite known threats and state officials must share responsibility in the assassination for ignoring the known threats. The EHRC also targeted the Istanbul and Trabzon Security Departments for being negligent, as they failed to prevent the assassination despite being aware of an imminent plan for the murder. Following the EHRC verdict, the lawyers for the Dink family demanded that 30 bureaucrats from the Istanbul and Trabzon government offices, as well as the National Intelligence Organization, also be questioned and charged. The court turned down the request.

The lawyers for the family also produced massive amounts of indisputable evidence that demonstrated the presence of a plan for the murder; of several persons communicating before, during, and after the murder; and, more critically, several government officials being informed of the plan, and either ignoring, praising, or consenting to it, and then deliberately covering up their involvement. Destroyed evidence included several tapped telephone conversations between police officials and informers, and sworn evidence of several police officers against their superiors who knew about the planned murder. Evidence refused by the court included footage of the actual murderer and accomplices captured by a store security camera; cellular phone conversations immediately before, during, and after the murder between the murderer and at least four others; and communications between the Dink murder suspects and military leaders already imprisoned for belonging to the Ergenekon “deep state” terrorist organization. Another example of scandalous treatment of evidence included the deliberate tampering, forging, and concealing of past communications by police officials, which turned notification of the impending murder into information about the murder after the fact. And while the evidence showed that Trabzon police had tapped the phone lines of some suspects and had even physically trailed them, when asked for the records by the court, the police said they had done no such thing. When it was revealed that the Trabzon Police indeed had the records, the court was told they were deleted. The evidence presented by the family lawyers also showed that Istanbul police had obtained the video footage of the crime scene on the day of the murder and had destroyed part of it. The Telecommunications Directorate, the regulator of cellular telephone operators, resisted providing the court with records of the suspects’ phone conversations, either among themselves or with police officials, until two weeks before the verdict. Ironically, all of these facts were widely covered by the media, including the transcript of several wiretapped conversations between the suspects and police officials. One of these conversations is disgustingly clear; immediately after the murder, a Trabzon informer asks, “Is he [the shooter] one of our boys?” and the Trabzon police officer responds, “Yes, but he wasn’t supposed to run away after the shooting.”

Why did the verdict cause an uproar?
As stated previously, in addition to the person who pulled the trigger—who was sentenced earlier—a total of 19 people were charged in Hrant’s murder for belonging to a terrorist organization planning the murder, for providing logistics and training, and for arranging the murder weapon. Eighteen of the suspects were acquitted from the charge of belonging to a terrorist organization planning the murder. Only one person was charged with planning the murder and helping the assassin.

None of the 30 state bureaucrats or police officials were even brought to trial for questioning. All of these “untouchables” kept their jobs and some were even rewarded with promotions. The then-governor of Istanbul ran for parliament and got elected as a member of Erdogan’s party. The then-Istanbul Police chief got appointed governor of the Osmaniye province. The then-Trabzon Police chief got promoted to head of the General Security Directorate. In short, the government managed to achieve something unbelievable, going from being a target of the “deep state” to becoming an accomplice of the “deep state” in the murder of Hrant Dink.

In another twist of irony, the government went a step further and jailed a journalist for publishing a book exposing the role of bureaucrats in the Dink murder, on charges of abetting the Ergenekon terrorist organization. The presiding judge said that although he acquitted the suspects from belonging to a terrorist organization, it does not mean that they did not belong to a terrorist organization, and that there was no evidence. The government officials said that they did everything the judiciary demanded of them. Prime Minister Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul tried to convince the protesting masses that there is always the appeal process and not to worry.

During the initial trials, Hrant’s son said “the court was making fun of us.” Upon hearing the verdict, Hrant’s lawyer said “they saved the best joke for last.” As Hrant’s friends, it is very difficult not to be discouraged. However, one has to realize why the state had to align with the “deep state” when its judiciary system came to this verdict in the assassination case of Hrant Dink, the first Armenian in Turkey who had dared the Turkish state to face its past and stop denying the truth about 1915: Any admission of guilt by the Turkish state in this murder would go all the way back to admission of guilt in 1915—a very long chain of dominoes that has already started to move, judging by the reaction of a growing number of people in Turkey demanding the truth.

Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer as well as a concert pianist, living in Toronto, Canada. For the past several years, proceeds from his concerts and two CDs have been donated toward the construction of school, highway, water and gas distribution projects in Armenia and Karabagh, in which he also participated as a voluntary engineer. He is involved with the Surp Giragos Dikranagerd Church Reconstruction project in organizing fundraising activities in Canada, as well as promoting the significance of this historic project worldwide to Armenian communities outside Turkey, on behalf of the Church Foundation Board and the Istanbul Patriarchate.


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