I can confess that I have lived two deep and unforgettable shocks during my years in this office — once in 1999 when the stability of Armenia was threatened by gunmen and the second time last year when I received the call that Hrant Dink had been assassinated. Both were attacks not on men, but on ideas and values.
Hrant’s murder was an assault at democratic state-building – of the Turkish state. His murderers took aim at his vision of a Turkey that allowed free speech, that tolerated open discourse, and that embraced its minority citizens, like himself.
We miss Hrant. He would come to Armenia a couple of times a year. In September 2006, when he spoke at the third Armenia Diaspora Conference, his message was that as members of the European family, Turkey and Armenia would have normal relations, because even the unwilling in Turkey would be induced to find a way to dialogue. That was music to our ears, echoing as it did our own wishes.
He also addressed the "International Conference on the 90th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide" we held in Yerevan in April, 2005. Everyone respected his ardent, reasoned plea for dialogue, for distinguishing between today’s Turkish Republic and the perpetrators of atrocities nearly 100 years ago. He recounted passionately how he had explained to Turkish authorities that Armenia’s are looking for their roots – the same roots which the Ottoman Empire slashed when it attempted to completely eradicate a people and tear it away from its home, its culture and its traditions.
Each time he came to Yerevan, we would find a few minutes to talk. It was important that I hear from him about the mood in Turkey. Hrant was the right person to ask, because he was not just an Armenian living in Turkey. He was proud of both his identities – Turkish and Armenian – and was insulted and angered that while trying to reconcile them he was accused of ‘insulting Turkishness’.
When he was first charged under Article 301 for ‘insulting Turkishness’, I asked whether it would help if I wrote a letter or spoke publicly. He responded confidently. "My thanks and gratitude, but right now, I’m all I need. So help me God, I’m going to take my struggle and my rights all the way to the end."
Later, he wondered how "On the one hand, they call for dialogue with Armenia and Armenia’s, on the other hand they want to condemn or neutralize their own citizen who is working for dialogue."
Hrant Dink was candid and courageous, but not naive. Still, he could not have predicted this kind of ‘neutralization’. His honest and brave voice was silenced. Worse, some saw in this assassination a clear message that the danger they face lies deeper than a mere judicial conviction.
This message is just one of the dividends that this killing offered those who contributed to the fanatical nationalist environment which colors Turkish politics in and out of Turkey. The brutality, the impunity, the violence of Hrant’s murder serves several political ends. First, it makes Turkey less interesting for Europe, which is exactly what some in the Turkish establishment want. Second, it scares away Armenia’s and other minorities in Turkey, from pursuing their civil and human rights. Third, it scares those bold Turks who are beginning to explore these complicated, sensitive subjects in earnest.
In Armenia, we have insisted for more than a decade, that although we are the victims of historical injustice, and although we are on the other side of a border that Turkey has kept closed, we are prepared at any time for dialogue with our neighbor on any subject, so long as there are normal relations between us, so long as this last closed border in Europe is opened, so long as someone on the other side wants to talk. We are ready.
A year ago, we were moved by the outpouring of fundamental, human grief at all levels of Turkish society, especially by those who have been scared by the demonstration of such violence on the part of an adolescent, and seen it for what it is — the continuation of hatred and enmity into the next generation.
Hrant Dink’s family, his colleagues at and around Agos, his friends in Armenia and in Turkey, will find some comfort knowing that today and tomorrow, Hrant will be remembered – by Armenia’s, who share his vision of understanding and harmony among peoples, and by Turks, who share his dream of living in peace with neighbors and with history.