Police witnesses in the ongoing murder trial of slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, who was killed by 17-year-old Ogün Samast in front of his office in Istanbul’s Şişli neighborhood in 2007, said instructions to take a photograph of Samat came from above. In the photograph, Samast can be seen holding a Turkish flag and posing between two members of the security forces following his arrest.
76 suspects are currently being tried on charges relating to Dink’s murder, in a seemingly never-ending trial. Though Samast was convicted of the murder, he was generally seen as a pawn of an ultranationalist group, members of whom were also arrested and convicted in the assassination. Tens of thousands of Istanbul residents marched on a main street in Şişli, to protest. They chanted “we are all Armenians.”
Hrant Dink was a respected if controversial figure who had been deeply invested in improving relations between Turks and Armenians. Before his death, he had said he feared for his life. One particularly controversial article he penned claimed that Sabiha Gökçen, an iconic fighter pilot and adopted daughter of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, had Armenian roots.
Prior to his killing, Dink was being prosecuted on charges of insulting Turkishness” under the infamous article 301, which has been used to target many prominent critics of the state, including the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk.
Many question marks loom over the affair, including whether or not different police departments knew about plans in advance and effectively failed to prevent the assassination. Police suspects have accused other branches in the police force for failing to act even after having been informed about the plot to kill Dink. One police suspect arrested in the case alleged that evidence was destroyed as part of an attempted cover up by other police forces to conceal their connections to the murderers.
“For the purpose of photographing Samast’s capture, instructions were received with regards to taking a photograph. Following those instructions, the photograph was taken. As you are aware, that photograph was leaked to the press,” said witness Mustafa Kuras, former gendarmerie intelligence branch deputy head in the province of Samsun, where Samast was apprehended.
The photograph, which depicts Samast brandishing a Turkish flag while standing in between two security forces, one of whom is smiling, was also the source of outrage after it was leaked.
According to witness Mustafa İlhan, former police chief of the Samsun police department, said that the capturing of Samast in the Samsun bus station was carried out by joint efforts of the police, the gendarmerie, and the head prosecutor’s office:
“I was the one who brought together the authority of the three institutions. Without giving rise to any incident, the capturing of the suspect was ensured by us. It took place because of me. When I look now, I don’t see an unsuccessful provincial police chief but a successful one,” İlhan said, adding that the photographing of Samast with the Turkish flag happened outside of his watch.
“I didn’t go to the upstairs of the branch of the police station. If I had done so, I absolutely not have allowed this disgrace to take place. I would have told them to leave all at once. You can be sure of this. Nobody told me that this photograph was being taken. I received news of it after it was revealed in the press,” said former Samsun deputy police chief Sabahattin Artin, also testifying as a witness.