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Prominent Journalist Shot Dead in Turkey

A prominent Armenian Turkish journalist was shot dead as he left his office in central Istanbul on Friday. Hrant Dink, 53, was one of the most influential voices in Turkey's small Armenian community and a passionate proponent of the country's membership of the European Union. From Istanbul Amberin Zaman has details for VOA.

Television images from the scene of the slaying showed Dink lying on the pavement covered with a white sheet outside the office of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, which he founded and ran. The area was cordoned off by police as citizens and journalists thronged around scene of the crime. The Turkish independent news channel NTV reported an unidentified teenager wearing jeans and white cap was among the chief suspects.

[Turkish media are reporting that authorities have arrested three people in connection with the shooting. Reports say police arrested two other people earlier but they have been released.]

Turkey's conservative prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice saying he had ordered his security services chiefs to investigate the murder.

The attack he said was "leveled against free speech, democracy and the unity of the Turkish people."

A Turkish citizen of Armenian descent, Dink faced a slew of court cases over his comments about the mass slaughter of up to a million Armenians by Ottoman Turkish forces during and after World War I. He provoked widespread anger in Turkey for having characterized the killings as genocide. That view is shared by most Armenians and many historians worldwide. Yet Dink also angered many of his fellow Armenians by insisting that dwelling on the past served no useful purpose and would often say he was proud to be a loyal citizen of Turkey.

Turkey denies that the events of 1915 constituted genocide, saying no more than 300,000 Armenians perished at the time. Turkey insists most of the Armenians died from hunger and disease after they were forcibly deported from eastern Turkey for having collaborated with invading Russian forces in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Anyone who challenges this official version of history risks prosecution in Turkey.

Many Turkish intellectuals and politicians condemned Dink's slaying, saying he was a force for peace and reconciliation. Speaking to the NTV news channel, a Turkish columnist for Agos, Aydin Engin, said he believes Dink's murder was orchestrated by forces who do not want Turkey to join the European Union.

The 27-member bloc has repeatedly condemned Turkey for laws that curb free speech. These are the laws under which Dink, and many other Turkish writers and academics, have faced prosecution. Camille Eurlings, a member of the Strasbourg based European Parliament expressed shock at the killing calling it "unbelievable."