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Thousands in Turkey Mark Killing of Armenian Journalist Amid Criticism of Court Ruling

Placards and a poster left by friends outside his office as tens of thousands of protesters march to mark the fifth anniversary of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's murder in Istanbul, Turkey,  as outrage continues to grow over a trial that failed
Placards and a poster left by friends outside his office as tens of thousands of protesters march to mark the fifth anniversary of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's murder in Istanbul, Turkey, as outrage continues to grow over a trial that failed
Dorian Jones

In Istanbul, tens of thousands of supporters of slain ethnic-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, marked the fifth anniversary of his murder, with many claiming the Turkish state was involved. But a court on Tuesday ruled there was no conspiracy, provoking national and international criticism. 

"We want justice for Hrant," shout supporters of the slain ethnic-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Tens of thousands of people marched through the center of Istanbul to the offices of the Turkish-Armenian newspaper Agos, which Dink once edited, to mark the fifth anniversary of his murder. Along with grief, the protesters are expressing anger.

On Tuesday, a court convicted a man for instigating the murder, but acquitted 19 people on state conspiracy charges. For this, Dink supporters say justice was not served.

"The real subjects of this case have not been imprisoned," For me, it represents the state's attitude towards this kind of political murders. Like they mostly protect the killers rather than punish them."

Dink was shot dead just outside his office by 17-year-old nationalist Ogun Samast.  Samast was sentenced last year to 22 years in jail.

But Dink's family and supporters claim senior members of the Turkish state were the architects of his murder. Dink had been a target for nationalists and the state for describing the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during World War I as genocide.  Shortly before his murder he was convicted of insulting Turkey with his views.

The Turkish representative of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, Emma Sinclair Webb, says with so much evidence implicating the state in Dink's murder, the court's decision gives a disturbing message.

"If you are an Armenian journalist in Turkey, you can be murdered, and your killers who are deeply connected with the state will somehow not be investigated for their links with the state," said Webb. "And the state authorities will not be held to account. That is the message this case gives. And more broadly, the case comes in [a] climate of clamp-down on the government oppositionists and imprisonment of particularly Kurdish journalists."

Turkey's ruling AK party is facing growing criticism in connection with the case. The party had been seen as being in the forefront of purging the state of anti-democratic forces.  

Hundreds of senior state officials, including army officers, are currently on trial as part of Ergenekon, a network prosecutors allege was seeking to overthrow the government and implicated in numerous political assassinations. A prosecutor in the Dink trial also claimed Ergenekon was behind the Dink killing - a charge rejected by the court.

Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul Bahcesehir University says the Dink verdict is a worrying sign for Turkey. He argues now that the state is purged of anti-government forces, the ruling AK party has become the status quo.

"We have always had a difference between the government and state," said Aktar. "The state was actually working against the AK government in the early years of its power.  But now it is one and the same. It is clear the Turkish democratic transformation is coming to an end. It means the old forces, the old elite, and the old habits will come back."

Addressing the media after the verdict, Fethiye Cetin, a lawyer representing the Dink family, gave a warning to the government.

Cetin says those in power today appear to have formed an alliance with the traditional forces of the state, but she says their alliance is temporary unless the state transforms itself," said Cetin. "She says this traditional force will eventually end its alliance by exterminating those in power.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc acknowledged the criticism about the verdict and says it can be appealed. 

But among Dink supporters protesting the verdict, there are mixed feelings about whether justice can ever be secured.

"No, not now," said a supporter. "But we believe we will get justice with this activity.  We believe we will take our justice for Hrant. We must take justice. It is a state murdering."

"I just believe in the justice, in the people, because I am not believing in justice in this country anymore," aded another supporter.

Dink's supporters are now preparing for a long battle for justice. The outcome of that struggle is being seen as a crucial test for the government in its commitment to democratic reform.

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