By Ruben Meloyan in Istanbul and Emil Danielyan
Some 100,000 people thronged the streets of Istanbul on Tuesday to take part in the funeral of outspoken Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink whose assassination sparked an uproar in Turkey and around the world.
Dink’s body was laid to rest at a local Armenian cemetery at the end of a huge funeral procession that stretched for several kilometers and shut down much of central Istanbul.
The procession, broadcast live by Turkish television and retransmitted by Armenia’s state-run First Channel, began outside the offices of Dink’s “Agos” weekly newspaper, the scene of Friday’s deadly shooting that shocked many Turks and Armenians. The crowd greeted a hearse carrying the editor’s coffin, decorated with flowers, with rapturous applause. Some people also chanted “Murderous state must be held accountable!” and "Shoulder to shoulder against fascism!"
Dink’s widow Rakel, surrounded by her three children, delivered an emotional speech to the crowd. "Seventeen or 27, whoever he was, the murderer was once a baby," she said, referring to a teenage man who has confessed to killing her prominent husband. "Unless we can question how this baby grew into a murderer, we cannot achieve anything."
The mourners then marched behind the coffin to an Armenian cathedral where a religious service was held before the burial. Many of them carried black-and-white placards reading, "We are all Hrant Dinks" and "We are all Armenians," in Turkish and Armenian.
Patriarch Mesrob II, the spiritual leader of Turkey’s 60,000-strong Armenian community, presided over the service attended by Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin, Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu and other senior Turkish officials. Armenia, which the Turkish government invited to the ceremony, was represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Arman Kirakosian. He delivered a letter of condolences and a wreath sent by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to the Dink family.
In a speech read out in Armenian and Turkish, Mesrob thanked the Turkish authorities for promptly arresting the presumed perpetrator of the killing and for “standing by the grieving family of the deceased and our community at this difficult moment.” “But this is not enough. The real masterminds of the crime must also be identified,” he said, indicating his belief that the 17-year-old suspect, Ogun Samast, could not have acted on his own.
The Turkish police say Samast has confessed to shooting Dink for nationalist motives. A nationalist militant friend of Samast, also under arrest, has admitted that he incited Samast to carry out the killing, according to the police. Another suspect is a university student who allegedly "inspired" the attack, “Hurriyet” newspaper reported Tuesday.
Mesrob also stressed that individuals like Dink, who openly question official Ankara’s vehement denial of the 1915 Armenian genocide, should not only be spared death but also “not be tried and imprisoned.” It was a clear reference to a six-month suspended prison sentence handed to Dink under a highly controversial Turkish law dealing with “insults to Turkishness.” Turkey is under growing international pressure to scrap the clause.
“It is our expectation that our state and the Turkish people will not forget that we Armenians have lived in these lands for thousands of years and are now citizens of the Turkish Republic, and that they will not regard us as aliens and potential enemies,” continued the Armenian patriarch. “We also hope that efforts, starting from textbooks and schools, will be made to eliminate notions portraying us as enemies.”
Turkish authorities took tight security measures for the massive outpouring of grief, deploying hundreds of police along the eight-kilometer route from the “Agos” office to the Armenian church of Virgin Mary. Snipers could be seen positioned on the rooftops of nearby buildings and a police helicopter roared overhead during the funeral procession.
A remembrance ceremony was also held on Tuesday in Yerevan where more than two thousand people gathered in the city’s Freedom Square to pay their respects to a man who has frequently visited Armenia over the past decade. The rally, which was timed to coincide with the start of Dink’s funeral, was organized by a group of local and Diaspora Armenian civic activists.
“Hrant’s discourse was a message to the Armenian and Turkish peoples,” one of the speakers said. “Hrant believed that they must seek reconciliation.”
The ceremonies in Istanbul and Yerevan were attended by the heads of U.S. diplomatic missions in Turkey and Armenia, underscoring Washington’s concerns about implications of Dink’s murder. "Hrant Dink was a great advocate in the country for
freedom of speech and for reconciliation, in particular between Armenians and Turks," Ross Wilson, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.
"He was one of the many advocates here for a more liberal Turkey," Wilson said. "All of them are making a statement about the kind of country they want Turkey to be. Judging by what you see on the streets, he did bring the people together."
A pro-Armenian member of the U.S. House of Representatives announced on Monday that he will introduce this week a resolution condemning Dink’s killing. Representative Joseph Crowley of New Jersey said the resolution will also urge Turkey to abolish Article 301 of its criminal code, under which Dink was prosecuted. The Armenian Assembly of America said similar legislation will also be circulated in the Senate.
The Assembly and another influential lobbying group, the Armenian National Committee of America, are pushing hard for the adoption of a House resolution which recognizes the 1915 mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide and is strongly opposed by Ankara.