Ruben Meloyan in Istanbul and Emil Danielyan
A Turkish-Armenian newspaper whose prominent editor Hrant Dink was gunned down last week was placed under police protection on Thursday after reporting death threats from a shadowy ultranationalist group.
Employees of the bilingual “Agos” weekly said they received a letter late Wednesday that described Dink as an “enemy dog” and warned that anyone calling World War One-era massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey a genocide will meet his fate.
“If you fail to exercise caution, many of your other dogs will also die,” read the letter signed by the obscure Turkish Revenge Brigade (TIT). “We have enough explosives to send the ‘Agos’ building skywards.”
“If you claim to have endured a genocide in 1915, then you don’t know what a genocide is. A real genocide will begin now,” it said.
“Agos” journalists said the letter came while Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was meeting with Dink’s widow and three children to offer his government’s condolences. They said they immediately informed the Turkish police about the threats.
“We don’t take such threats seriously,” one of them told RFE/RL. “They seem a bit childish. In any case, the newspaper will continue to publish and follow Hrant’s path.”
The building housing the “Agos” offices was surrounded and searched by security forces on Thursday morning. Although they found no explosives there, two police officers stayed on to guard the entrance to the building.
Later in the day, police in Ankara blew up a suspicious package outside the Turkish parliament which carried a TIT note calling for the release of the two main suspects in the February 19 shooting of Dink. The package contained a timer but no explosives, police told Reuters news agency. The note warned that real explosions will follow unless Ogun Samast and Yasin Hayal are released.
Turkish law-enforcement authorities are probing a possible link between ultranationalist groups and these and three other young men charged in connection with the crime which shocked many people in and outside the country. Hayal is a known nationalist militant who has admitted to inciting the 17-year-old Samast to gun down Dink in broad daylight.
Hayal issued a stern warning to Nobel Literature Prize winner Orhan Pamuk as he was taken to an Istanbul court house on Wednesday. "Orhan Pamuk should be careful" he shouted to journalists.
Like Dink, Pamuk has challenged the long-standing Turkish denial of a premeditated effort to exterminate the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. Both men were controversially prosecuted under an article of the Turkish criminal code that envisages tough penalties for “insulting Turkishness.”
Meanwhile, a Russian news agency released on Wednesday what it described as Dink’s last media interview that was given two days before his violent death. The 52-year-old editor was quoted as repeating that he “constantly” gets hate mail and threats deaths relating to his public references to the Armenian genocide. “I am dogged by fear every day,” he told two correspondents for Ria-Novosti, again comparing himself to a pigeon who “always turns its head, flinches at any rustle and is always ready to fly away.”
“I think I’m not like many Armenians [in Turkey] who prefer to hide their heads when things get dangerous,” Dink said. “But I can’t hide all the time … It’s not easy for my wife and children to know that their father constantly gets death threats, both by phone and e-mail.”
Dink also revealed that he had tried unsuccessfully to make a career in the Turkish armed forces after finishing his compulsory military service in the early 1960s. “I realized at the time that you can’t become an army officer in secular Turkey if you are not a Muslim,” he said. “That’s when I really felt what it’s like to be an Armenian in Turkey.”
(AP-Photolur photo: An “Agos” worker cries during the funeral ceremony of Hrant Dink on Tuesday in Istanbul.)