« Again, January 19, and again, the violent murder of Hrant Dink…. » remembers Taner Akçam, historian and sociologist, writer of The Young Turks’ Crime Against Humanity: The Armenian Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing in the Ottoman Empire, in Bianet.
« We will commemorate Hrant, and we will talk about Hrant. First, an observation: It’s been 15 years, and that’s easy to say. No person who was the victim of a murder has been commemorated with the same adamant stand and determination for such a long time in the history of Turkey. This is a first.
What this means needs to be pondered about. Meanwhile, I want to scribble something on the meaning of these commemorations that have not ended for 15 years and will continue.
Let me say the last thing I will say from the beginning: Hrant Dink is the founder of our new republic that we have been longing for. And, unless Hrant Dink is declared the founder of the republic of Turkey, democracy and respect for human rights will not prevail in this country.
There is a statement I hear very often, « We established the Republic; now we will crown it with democracy. » This statement attributes a very positive meaning to the foundation of the republic. It is problematic in this respect.
Because the seed that killed Hrant Dink was planted with the founding philosophy and founding principles of this Republic. Hrant Dink was killed because he questioned the founding principles of this republic.
But on the other hand, this sentence is a correct sentence. This republic needs to be crowned with democracy, there are possibilities for this. And this crowning is possible if and only if there are new founders and the philosophies of these founders are made the founding philosophy of this republic.
Hrant Dink is the most important founder of this republic, which will be crowned with democracy. Of course, there are other founders. Tahir Elçi and Seyit Rıza are two other known figures. There are also others, but that is a separate issue.
Unless Hrant Dink is declared the founder of the republic, this republic cannot be crowned with democracy. Declaring Hrant Dink the founder means questioning and correcting the flaws of the founding principles of the first Republic.
Therefore, I can summarize my two main theses as follows:
1) The establishment of the republic has structural flaws and the Hrant Dink murder is a product of these structural flaws of the establishment of the republic.
2) these structural flaws can cease to exist if and only if Hrant Dink is declared the founder of the new republic. The declaration of him as the founder symbolizes the correction of the structural flaws.
First, an enlightening idea on the first thesis; the question is: How is racism eliminated in the United States of America (ABD); how is a society that is more egalitarian and where justice is established can be founded? The answer by the American civil rights movement is this: Racism is the founding flaw of the USA. When the war of independence was fought against the English, slave owners were compromised with and slave trade was recognized as a constitutional right.
After all, a significant portion of the leaders of the struggle for independence were slave owners. For this reason, slavery was made an important principle of the American constitution and racism became a structural element of the establishment of America. Defining and understanding America only with its founders who originally founded it means defending the continuation of this structural racism.
The history of the USA is the history of the struggle for equal citizenship rights and only as a result of these struggles America has been able to become a country where legal equality is recognized.
If you don’t count the people who fought this struggle and lost their lives for it as the founding fathers of the USA, you cannot defeat racism in America. For example, Martin Luther King, who lost his life for citizenship rights, is the new founding father of America. King is the criticism of the USA, which was founded upon racism, and symbolizes its crowning with democracy.
Hrant Dink is the Martin Luther King of Turkey. Hrant Dink, just like Martin Luther King, was killed because he had a philosophy questioning the establishment of the republic. He was killed because he wanted equal citizenship rights.
So, let me underline, the establishment of the republic of Turkey has serious structural flaws. Just like the establishment of the USA structurally internalized racism, our Republic structurally internalized inequality.
This Republic is founded upon otherizing Armenians, Rums, Syriacs/Assyrians and Jews. It was founded in a way that left no option for the Kurds to obey the Turkish sovereignty. Just like the American racism, neither Christians nor Jews, Alevis and Kurds were fully considered citizens in this country.
The Sunni Turk is the most equal, others follow it. Inequality is a structural problem of this republic, and if you define and explain this republic with only those who originally founded it, if you only praise Mustafa Kemal night and day, you defend and continue the structural inequality.
You will be content with only the original founders and you will want a society where everyone is equal despite the differences in religion, language and culture; this is not possible.
Hrant Dink was killed because he said, « I am an Armenian, you will accept it as such. » He was killed because he said it was not necessary to be a Turk to be an equal citizen. He was killed because he said it was possible to both be an Armenian and an equal citizen. Just like Martin Luther King was killed because he said it was both possible to be black and an equal citizen.
In other words, Hrant was killed because he defended the right to equal and equivalent citizenship of Armenians, Rums, Syriacs/Assyrians, Jews, Kurds, and everyone in Turkey. Declaration of him as the founder of the republic is the greatest self-criticism of this murder.
One last word I have to say is: Yes, I know, Turkey has returned to its founding settings. The democratization process in the 2000s ended in frustration. As was the case with the Armenian Genocide, most notably, it returned to its factory settings with regards to the murders in history. The attempts to recognize the Kurds’ fundamental rights were completely retracted. The country has tumbled into great darkness and is still there…
But let’s not forget, these happened and are happening, but a lot has been gained as well. To me, Hrant Dink is a spiritual victory. It is a symbol that the years we went through were not in vain and we have a lot in our hands for the new republic.
I can comfortably say that, until 2007, people who said, « There was a big massacre in 1915, a nation was wiped out » had been prosecuted. Campaign were organized against these people, most notably Hrant, and they were threatened with death. There were dozens of lawsuits filed against these people. Now they cannot do this with the same aggression.
This is my claim: Hrant Dink is the psychological high ground; we, those who think like him, are no longer on the defensive. It may sound surprising, but argue that we now have the upper hand. It is denialism that is on the defensive now. They do what they do with a defensive psychology, this difference is important. They do what they do but they know very well that they have been defeated.
Hrant Dink, maybe very slowly, is infiltrating the capillaries of this society. Take a look around you, you will see new people who did not previously see commemorate, talk about Hrant Dink.
Of course, there are « rats abandoning the ship » but they are very few in numbers. The number of those who want to know and understand Hrant Dink is increasing because Hrant Dink represents a new thing that we have been longing for. He represents people being equal citizens regardless of their religions, languages, beliefs. He represents the new republic and its crowning with democracy. He represents not the one who says, « How happy is the one who says I am a Turk » but the one who says, « I am an equal citizen no matter what my religion, language or culture is. »
If we do not declare Hrant Dink the founder, who cannot fix the structural inequality of this republic. We cannot eliminate the inequality that this republic is founded upon. And we will fix this structural flaw by declaring Hrant Dink the founder of the new republic. Crowning the republic with democracy is only possible in this way.
This is my last word: Please open the Turkey-Armenia border and name the border crossing the Hrant Dink border crossing. This will be a big step towards eliminating the founding flaws of the republic (TA/APK/KU/VK)
From the book Hrant (Tûba Çandar, Everest Publishing House, 1st Edition, September 2010), with thanks.
(In order) Consolation coming with seagulls/Tempo magazine
When touching the Turkish society
Under the shadow of black clouds/Vatan newspaper
Random/Mehtap Yücel, Geo magazine
Taner Akçam in Bianet, January 17, 2022