By Nicolas Cheviron, AFP
Thousands are expected to gather in Istanbul Saturday in memory of Armenian-Turk campaigning editor Hrant Dink, on the first anniversary of his hate-slaying outside his weekly newspaper's offices.
The grassroots tribute to the Agos founder, gunned down by an unemployed ultra-nationalist on January 19, 2007, comes days before Turkish parliament reform of a controversial law against insulting 'Turkishness' that some hold responsible for his murder.
Already the subject of a series of prosecutions, Dink was given a six-month suspended sentence in October 2005 after a court ruled that one of his pieces described Turkish blood as dirty. An appeal was also rejected.
He had called on Armenians to reject symbolically "the tainted part of their Turkish blood" and "turn now towards the new blood of an independent Armenia, the only thing capable of freeing them from the weight of the diaspora".
Over and above the actual sentence, the judgment "confirmed," in the words of his killer's lawyer, that Dink was "a traitor to the fatherland," handing him on a plate to ultra-nationalists with reprisal in mind. "There is no doubt that article 301 has contributed to a targeting of intellectuals and, for some, like Dink, the paying of the heaviest price," said Erol Onderoglu of press rights campaigners Bia2.
Sentences were imposed in only six out of 55 cases last year, and not one of those involved time behind bars. But that doesn't make the law any less harmful, according to Ragip Zarakoglu, a publisher being tried himself for releasing a book which classed as "genocide" the 1915-17 massacres of Armenians, a claim denied by Turkey. Countries like France, Argentina, Greece and Russia, where descendants live, have formally recognized Armenian genocide, but Turkey argues the killings of hundreds of thousands of natives under the Ottoman Empire -- virtually clearing their heartland -- was related to the First World War.
"This article (301) is used to trigger (Turkish) nationalist campaigns and in this way to force intellectuals to censor themselves," said Zarakoglu. He cited a new-found "silence" on the part of other high-profile writers in Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 Nobel prize winner for literature whose trial on charges of "insulting Turkishness" was dropped last year, as well as French-born author Elif Safak.
The amendment being voted on next week is intended to define more precisely what article 301, or insulting Turkishness, is meant to cover. It will also reduce the maximum prison term from three to two years and introduce the need for the justice minister to sign off prosecutions -- in Zarakoglu's eyes, a move that threatens judicial independence. It also risks, he believes, creating a two-tier system whereby lesser-known individuals may be prosecuted free from the prying eyes of the media or the European Union while "stars will be untouchable because the ministry will refuse to sanction a trial in order to avoid the hassle".
For Etyen Mahcupyan, current director of Agos, the changes should, nevertheless, be sufficient to halt a good number of cases. "We can guess that with all these new little details, they will be unable to open the majority of cases," he said.
Asked about article 301's influence on the death of his friend, the journalist preferred to point to other factors. "We know full well that there is a small group of judges and prosecutors (the extremist self-styled Union of Lawyers) who are very nationalist and statist, and who act apparently in a deliberate fashion," he added.