Thousands gathered in Istanbul this week to demand full justice for high-profile Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was killed 15 years ago.
Placards reading “We are all Hrant, We are all Armenian” and “For Hrant, For Justice” were waved as the crowd gathered outside the building where a teenage gunman in 2007 shot Dink.
Candles and red carnations were placed next to a commemorative plaque, and Turkish and Armenian songs played in the background. The facade of the building, which was once home to Dink’s media outlet, was covered with a large poster of the journalist and the words: “15 missing years.”
"The beautiful thing is that after 15 years, so many people do not forget Hrant Dink and the message he gave,” Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative for media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told VOA.
As the founder and editor-in-chief of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos, Dink was a leading advocate for peace between the Turkish and Armenian communities.
But his writing and speeches on Armenian identity and calls for reconciliation made him a target of nationalists in Turkey.
He was prosecuted several times during his journalism career, including a lawsuit in 2005 in which Dink was convicted of “publicly insulting and degrading Turkishness.”
At the time of his death, Dink was awaiting trial as part of a lawsuit over his use of the word “genocide” to describe attacks in 1915 that Armenia says left 1.5 million dead.
The U.S. and some other countries recognize it as a genocide. Turkey acknowledges killings during the Ottoman Empire but denies any genocide.
In early January, special envoys from Turkey and Armenia met in Moscow to try to normalize an otherwise strained relationship.
Search for justice
In 2011, Ogun Samast was sentenced to nearly 23 years in prison by a juvenile court on charges including premeditated murder for shooting Dink.
Since then, 76 other suspects accused of involvement in Dink’s killing have been tried. In March 2021, a court in Istanbul sentenced several former high-ranking public and police officers to life in prison for convictions on several charges, including premeditated murder and violating the constitution.
The Turkish government believes a network linked to Fethullah Gulen was behind the attack and that those involved have been brought to justice. The U.S.-based Gulen, whom Turkey also accuses of being behind a failed attempted coup, denies the accusations.
Omer Celik, spokesperson for the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), paid tribute to Dink on Twitter, saying: “Hrant defended brotherhood in this country and resisted those who tried to bring hostility to this country from outside.”
Dink’s family and colleagues, however, believe a wider network was involved in the killing and do not believe everyone has been brought to justice. Lawyers for the family appealed the March 2021 court decision and asked for further investigation.
“Impunity still persists,” said RSF’s Onderoglu, who followed the trial closely. “The Hrant Dink case is not out of our agenda, even if it is out of the hands of the court.”
“We will continue our struggle until the end, until those who targeted Hrant Dink, those who incited them, and the structures that killed him are brought to justice,” he added.
‘15 missing years’
In a column published the day he died, Dink said he felt “dovelike disquiet” because of the death threats and legal cases he faced.
“Doves live their lives in the hearts of cities, amid the crowds and human bustle. Yes, they live a little uneasily, a little apprehensively — but they live freely too,” Dink wrote.
Images of doves were projected onto the building facade a night before the commemoration.
The memorial shows Dink’s lasting impact on the Turkish-Armenian community, even on those who were too young at the time to understand what was happening.
Sila Pakyuz, 20, a Turkish-Armenian university student, told VOA she came to the commemoration with her non-Armenian friends.
"Hrant was shot when we came out of kindergarten. I am an Armenian from Turkey, and I was unaware that I was the ‘other’ in Turkey. I was only a child who spoke Armenian,” Pakyuz said.
“When I got home, my grandmother was crying, ‘Hrant was killed.’ As I got older, I understood what it means to be an Armenian in Turkey. I was living in a bubble,'' she said.
At the memorial, Dink’s widow, Rakel, addressed the crowd, speaking about the detention of lawyers, journalists and Kurdish politicians in Turkey.
“Let us not dash any hopes,” Rakel Dink said. “The voice of indignation, rebellion and objection that roared up right from here as we buried you has never kept silent, and it shall never remain silent.”
This story originated in VOA’s Turkish Service.