Hrant Dink, a high-profile Turkish-Armenian editor convicted of insulting Turkey's identity, was shot dead outside his newspaper office in Istanbul on Friday.
Dink, a frequent target of nationalist anger for his comments on the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks during World War One, was shot as he left his weekly “Agos” around 1300 GMT in central Istanbul.
"A bullet has been fired at democracy and freedom of expression. I condemn the traitorous hands behind this disgraceful murder," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said. "This was an attack on our peace and stability." Erdogan told a hastily called news conference in Ankara that two people were detained in connection with the murder.
The attack provoked widespread international condemnation, with the European Union urging Turkish authorities to fully investigate the "brutal act of violence." Dink was "a campaigner for freedom of expression in Turkey," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in a statement. "I trust that the Turkish authorities will fully investigate this
crime and will bring the perpetrators to justice," Rehn stressed.
The United States was also quick to express concern. "Clearly this is a tragic incident," State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey told reporters. Casey said that while he has no information on who was responsible and Turkish authorities are still investigating the shooting, Dink's slaying "does raise some concerns" for the United States. "This was an individual who had received threats for his writing," he said.
In Yerevan, President Robert Kocharian strongly condemned the killing, saying through a spokesman that it is “raising numerous questions.” “We hope that the Turkish authorities will identify and strictly punish the assassin,” Victor Soghomonian, the presidential press secretary, told RFE/RL.
For his part, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said Armenia, which Dink visited regularly, is “deeply shocked” by the news. “We categorically condemn this act, regardless of the circumstances, and call on the Turkish authorities indeed to do everything to identify those responsible,” Oskanian said in a statement.
The attack is bound to raise political tensions in would-be EU member Turkey, where politicians of all parties have been courting the nationalist vote ahead of presidential elections in May and parliamentary polls due by November. Turkey's main stock market index fell sharply on the news.
NTV television said Dink was shot three times in the head and neck. Muharrem Gozutok, a restaurant owner near the newspaper, said the assailant looked about 20, wore jeans and a cap and shouted "I shot the non-Muslim" as he left the scene.
Protesters outside the “Agos” office on one of Istanbul's busiest streets chanted "the murderer government will pay" and "shoulder-to-shoulder against fascism". Television footage showed Dink's body lying in the street covered by a white sheet, with hundreds of bystanders gathering behind a police cordon. "This bullet was fired against Turkey ... an image has been created about Turkey that its Armenian citizens have no safety," said CNN Turk editor Taha Akyol.
“My blood is frozen,” Rober Hadejian, editor of Istanbul’s Armenian-language daily “Marmara” told RFE/RL by phone. “The killing of our colleague is a blow to all of us … Our pain is immense.”
“We have just heard the news and are absolutely shocked,” said Sevan Diminjian of “Zhamanak,” another Turkish-Armenian daily.
Last year Turkey's appeals court upheld a six-month suspended jail sentence against Dink for referring in an article to an Armenian nationalist idea of ethnic purity without Turkish blood. The court said the comments went against article 301 of Turkey's revised penal code, which lets prosecutors pursue cases against writers and scholars for "insulting Turkish identity". The ruling was sharply criticized by the EU.
Dink was one of dozens of writers who have been charged for insulting Turkishness, particularly over the genocide of Armenians by Turks during World War One. “He readily accepted requests for interviews from television stations and spoke very bravery on the subject,” said Hadejian. “In fact, he was the first Armenian intellectual [in Turkey] who openly used the word genocide.”
Turkey denies that 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a systematic genocide. But the government has repeatedly promised to revise the much criticized article of the penal code amid EU pressure. Improving freedom of speech in Turkey is a priority in Ankara's efforts to join the 27-member bloc.
"Hrant was a perfect target for those who want to obstruct Turkey's democratization and its path towards the European Union," “Agos” writer Aydin Engin told Reuters.
Dink was editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish and Armenian weekly and one of the most prominent Armenian voices in Turkey. "I will continue my fight by all possible means at all possible levels of courts in Turkey, and up to the European Court,” Dink said in an interview with RFE/RL last May. “And if I fail to defend my rights, I'll leave this country with my family."