By Emil Danielyan and Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s leading political parties, religious leaders and civil society representatives have joined official Yerevan in condemning the shock assassination of Hrant Dink, the prominent Turkish-Armenian newspaper editor.
In a flurry of statements made over the weekend, they paid tribute to Dink over his public references to the 1915-1918 mass killings and deportations as genocide and his rejection of the official Ankara’s version of those events. Most held the Turkish state directly or indirectly responsible for his violent death that provoked widespread international condemnation.
The head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, led on Sunday a memorial service for Dink that was held at the main church cathedral in Echmiadzin. Similar ceremonies were due to be held in other churches in Armenia and its worldwide Diaspora.
Garegin praised Dink as a “gifted and brave son of the Armenian people” in a letter of condolences sent to the spiritual leader of Turkey’s 60,000-strong Armenian community, Patriarch Mesrob Mutafian. “His untimely and tragic death shocked all of us,” he said.
In Yerevan, dozens of people held a silent vigil late Saturday, lighting candles and holding Dink’s pictures. Earlier in the day, about a hundred young activists gathered outside the European Union’s representation in Yerevan to condemn the Friday shooting in Istanbul and demand stronger EU pressure on Ankara.
A similar demonstration was held there on Monday by members of the student organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a nationalist party represented in Armenia’s government. “Turkey is continuing its genocidal policies,” said one of the young protesters.
“This inhuman act is an attempt to silence free speech and the voice of a defender of an ethnic minority,” the pro-establishment Prosperous Armenia party, which claims to be the largest in the country, said in a statement. “The assassinated journalist was one of those brave persons who did not shy away from using the phrase ‘Armenian genocide’ and posed a direct danger to those Turkish circles that continue to pursue denialist policies.”
“In Turkish society, he was the embodiment of solidarity, tolerance and the dignity of ethnic minorities,” said Orinats Yerkir, a major opposition party.
Joining in the chorus of condemnations, some Armenian historians and public figures claimed that the Turkish state had a hand in Dink’s assassination and remains disinterested in confronting its troubled Ottoman past. “Those statements of condemnation and condolences and sympathy do not remove the guilt from the Turkish authorities,” said Ashot Melkumian, director of the History Institute of the National Academy of Sciences. “This was a terrorist act organized at the state level.”
According to Hakob Movses, a prominent and former culture minister, the Istanbul attack continued a centuries-old pattern. “There isn’t a single positive page in our 800-year co-existence with the Turks,” he told a roundtable discussion in Yerevan.
But Hayk Demoyan, the young director of the Museum of the Armenian Genocide, disagreed, saying that such remarks play into the hands of Turkish ultra-nationalist circles. “This murder will become a kind of watershed in Turkish society’s position on the genocide issue,” Demoyan said, pointing to the massive outpouring of sympathy for the slain journalist expressed by many Turks.
The Yerevan Press Club also deplored nationalist rhetoric “alien to the views of Hrant Dink.” “While experiencing deep sorrow, we can not fail to regret some statements whose authors tried to exploit the tragedy which took place in Istanbul,” the media watchdog said in a statement. “We wish to believe that the values which Hrant Dink espoused, the aims which he promoted will find more and more adherents in Armenia, Turkey and the entire region,” it added.
Though a proponent of Turkish recognition of the Armenian genocide, Dink believed that the Armenians should concentrate on boosting the Turkish public’s awareness of the tragedy, instead of lobbying Western parliaments to adopt genocide resolutions. “Turkish society needs time to learn things,” Dink argued at a September news conference in Yerevan. “There is a need for a serious examination of history. Armenians must have a role in that examination.”
“Does the campaign for genocide recognition facilitate or complicate this process? In my view, we just give more ammunition to Turkish nationalists,” he said during what proved to be his last visit to Armenia.
Dashnaktsutyun, which favors a hard line on Turkey, noted that Dink had unconventional views on Turkish-Armenian reconciliation and “always took into account and defended the interests of a ‘civilized’ Turkey.” “Dink’s murder once again proved that dissent is not tolerated in Turkey,” read a statement by Dashnaktsutyun’s governing Bureau.
“Hrant Dink had a dream,” said Arsen Avagian, a diplomat who represented Armenia at the Istanbul headquarters of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization. “He wanted to see a center for Turkish studies established in Yerevan and worked hard in that direction. I think the best way to remember Hrant Dink is to create such a center.”