By Thomas Grove, Reuters
Istanbul's Armenian community has suffered shock and anger over the murder of a leading Turkish-Armenian journalist, causing some to fear nationalism is rising and more attacks could follow.
An unemployed teenager has confessed to Friday's shooting of Hrant Dink in an attack that has raised questions about Turkey's tolerance for minorities and freedom of expression. Thousands of Armenians, Turks and others lit candles and laid carnations and pictures of Dink outside his newspaper office in central Istanbul where he was shot.
"We thought that all of this was behind us, but there are still people who want to kill us because we are Armenian and because we want to talk about what happened in 1915," said Ardas Cavusan, 56, an Armenian lathe operator.
Many Armenians believe Dink was targeted because he wanted Turkey to acknowledge the mass killings of Armenians here during World War One as genocide. Turkish nationalists see the genocide claims as an insult to national honour. Turkey's 60,000-strong Armenian community, possibly fearing reprisals, has largely avoided sensitive historical issues although the Armenian Diaspora has campaigned globally for recognition of the genocide. The murder of Dink, 52, who had tried to promote reconciliation between Muslim Turks and Christian Armenians, has triggered anger as well as sorrow.
"The government has to do something about this. Since the Ottoman Empire, Armenians have been killed, and it's still happening today. Hrant was just the latest victim," said Mahil Calis, 33, a textile worker. "Now the Turkish government has to recognise the genocide as a matter of conscience."
Textile worker Calis, who sends his daughter to a state-run Armenian school, was also worried. "Of course there's a reason to be afraid. I have a daughter who goes to school, and you never know what can happen. It's not easy to live under this kind of pressure. There are repercussions if we say what we want," he said.
Armenian sculptor Hagop Pacaci, 42, said he led out little hope that Dink's murder would bring inter-ethnic reconciliation. "People will stay silent. We have great experience of this. In the coming years we will be buried in silence," he said.
Turkey denies claims that 1.5 million Armenians perished on its territory in a systematic genocide during World War One. It says both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks died in large numbers as the multi-ethnic, multi-confessional Ottoman Empire collapsed. Ankara also says many Armenians had been collaborating with invading Russian troops in eastern Turkey.
The Diaspora has lobbied for decades to have the genocide recognised, and some foreign parliaments have done so. Radical Armenian nationalists also shot dozens of Turkish diplomats and their family members from the 1970s to the 1990s in revenge attacks for the massacres.
Armenians are an officially recognised minority in modern Turkey, but the community complains of continued prejudice and discrimination. They hope that Turkey's efforts to join the European Union will lead to greater freedom and tolerance.
Turkey's pro-EU centre-right government, which faces a strong nationalist challenge in a parliamentary election due in November, has proposed forming a joint commission of Turkish and Armenian historians to study archives from the period.
But Armenia, which shares a border with Turkey that is closed due to a territorial row, has rejected the proposal. It says the genocide is an established historic fact.
Among the mourners outside Dink's office on Sunday, one elderly man yelled: "People like Hrant will not be stopped. The truth will be told. Unlike Hrant it can't be shot from behind."
Dozens of Turkish writers and intellectuals, including Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, have been prosecuted for comments on the massacres of Armenians. Pamuk was let off on a technicality but Dink had been given a six-month suspended sentence for comments he made about Armenians and Turks.
(AP-Photolur photo: Demonstrators carry a banner that reads: "Damn to murderers of Hrant Dink!" during a protest in downtown Istanbul on Friday.)