Is anyone interested in buying a church? An Armenian church. It’s not much, only 6.3 million Turkish liras. It is second hand. What should you do with it if you buy it? Well, you could convert it into a mosque and give sermons, eyes ablaze! Frightening your enemies, protecting your friends, all that. You could make it your private house and watch Ottoman-themed TV shows all night long. You could make it a touristic destination! Walk the tourists around with a pretty grin on your face, saying, “There were Armenians here, but now there are none.” This is a private property for sale. Armenians were just the first to use it.
What’s that your holding? According to that statement, the church was transferred to private ownership “due to the departure of the population after they were forcibly exchanged?” Oh my! What a lie! What exchange is this even talking about? When was the Armenian population exchanged? And who did we get in return? Ha! What happened to the days when we had to say, “It is sad but it was necessary; it was a justified and moral deportation.” Do we no longer need to convince anyone? Are we now hiding the word “deportation?” Whatever. The important thing is that you should own this property. If anybody asks who the original owner was, we can make something up. Today maybe it’s “population exchange,” tomorrow our officials will find a heartwarming story of emigration. When it comes to property seizure, a good lie can always be found.
Turkey’s founding massacre
This isn’t the only chuch like this to be put up for sale. The Turkish media personality Fatih Altaylı said one such church belonged to his family. The Armenian genocide in 1915, which made it possible for these churches to be privately owned, was part of the transition from an “Ottoman” to “Turkish” nation. It was our founding massacre. The murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007 was the continuation of this genocide. Not only that, but it is the founding act of the Erdoğan-Bahçeli-Çakıcı coalition which rules today’s Turkey.
The Dink murder, including the situation before, the murder itself, and the judicial and public debates after, shed light on many qualities we have come to know our current government for. It was not the seizure of Erdoğan’s party, the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP), by Bahçeli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which is renowned for its anti-Armenian statements. This would be an uninformed interpretation. When Bahçeli was flinging unbelievable political accusations and insults at Erdoğan, Erdoğan’s Interior Minister Naim Şahin was already center stage touting Armenian hatred, way before the MHP rhetoric.
It was impossible for the individuals and committees, which acquitted itself of any 1915 culpability, to appropriately respond to the Dink murder, as they contributed to it. Even if the individual or committee had no direct involvement in the 1915 Armenian genocide, but just like any founding massacre, it is always possible to join in later if they didn’t have to chance to commit such atrocities the first time around. There are a number of ways to join in on the massacre after-the-fact: One can neglect to hold a proper trial or even take advantage of the outcomes of the murder.
Was there only one perpetrator?
The Hrant Dink murder was blatantly planned and publicly carried out. At each stage, every actor played their role. After the murder was committed, during the so-called trial, the performance continued with flags unfurled and lies told without hesitation.
Before the murder was committed, everybody in city of Trabzon’s Pelitli neighborhood, population 20,000, knew that Hrant was going to be killed. The entire neighborhood of Pelitli knew that a man named Yasin Hayal, who had a well-known villainous reputation, was gathering and training gun-wielding young men to kill Hrant. Everyone knew that Ogün Samast had been selected as the hitman out of Hayal’s group of youngsters. Not only did the residents of the Pelitli neighborhood know, but they told the gendarmerie and police. These informants would later say “We warned the authorities.” The entire neighborhood knew. The Trabzon police knew. The Trabzon gendarmerie knew. The Istanbul Police Chief (Celalettin Cerrah) knew. The Istanbul Governor (Muammer Güler) knew. In other words, the people, whose job it was to prevent such a murder and track down perpetrators, knew.
So then, how was this murder committed? How was it not prevented by society or security officials? Could it be that nobody wanted to prevent it? Could it be that an entire community, with all its officials, wished for, nay demanded, perhaps even organized the murder of Hrant Dink? Yes. Not only this, but they announced it beforehand.
There is one thing we unequivocally understand today from the murder file: If, at any stage of the murder planning, there was even one person who thought that this was wrong, they could have prevented it. However, at no stage was there any such person; Hrant Dink was murdered with full societal and governmental cooperation.
Armenians: Turkey’s homo sacer
This cooperation was possible because of “Armenian hatred.” It is a sentiment our country was founded on. Not only because it made genocide possible, but it allowed Armenian churches to be sold, Armenian fields to be plowed, Armenian gold to be snatched, and power to be built on top of the rubble.
Hrant Dink made this hatred a topic of public debate, and had societal impact with the sense of intimacy and sincerity he embodied. He broke down taboos and his determination was noteworthy. Hrant Dink attempted to shift the course of Armenian-centric politics in Turkey and pushed back against the government’s decision to deny the genocide. At the time when Hrant started talking about this only one position was allowed: Absolute denial. Any position contrary was responded to with violence. Hrant could not change the government’s position, but he was able to show that a public debate could be an effective means of shifting direction in the long-term.
Unfortunately, an Armenian in Turkey can only succeed by keeping quiet and declaring, whenever necessary, that they are thankful to the state; otherwise, they become part of the “1915 Armenian betrayal” and therefore can be murdered. Like a homo sacer, he is banished and can be killed by anybody, his murder is not considered a crime, and he is never the subject of a criminal investigation.
Murder out in the open
Because he did not keep silent, Hrant was an open target for politicians, the daily Hürriyet, and the judiciary, which is always ready to abandon justice (from trial courts to the Supreme Court).
This murder was arranged by the politician who filed suit after suit against Hrant Dink for “insulting Turkishness,” by the newspaper which incited hatred, and by the judiciary which threw justice and reason to the wayside. The murder weapon was prepared. All that was need was someone to pull the trigger. In Rakel Dink’s, Hrant’s wife, words, “the darkness that made a murderer from a child” had been at work for a long time. The rest was only a couple of bullets.
A massacre machine
Those bullets fired at Hrant certainly contribute to the history of Turkey’s genocide that started in 1915. At the same time, it gives us clarity of understanding for what can happen in Turkey today: If a journalist does something the government does not like, anything can happen to them; Nothing can be said or discussed except for the state’s position on the Armenian issue; The media’s only job is to praise the state and the current government; The only mission of the society is to cast out those who do not agree, or at least stay quiet until the murder is carried out; The only mission of the bureaucracy is to prevent even the slightest criticism of the government, the state, Turkishness, etc. The policemen who posed for a picture in front of the Turkish flag with Hrant’s murderer and the cabinet minister who posed for a picture with the grave robbers who forcibly exhumed Hatun Tuğluk’s from her grave are examples of this type of politics.
The Hrant Dink case has shown, at every stage, that the founding crimes and sentiments which the decisions of the state are based upon are not just a line of the “Ottoman reformist movement of unionists (ittihat).” Rather, Islamism united the state under fundamental positions such as the Armenian Genocide, xenophobia, and Kurdish hatred.
The Dink case remains unresolved despite the many promises made by the prime minister, Erdoğan, and the AKP. These false commitments are equivalent to saying that Armenian churches were abandoned because of population exchange. They knew that the issue was not the murder itself, but rooting out the mechanism that led to the murder, and they were never going to do that. Calling it “genocide” was seen as defamation, and their project became not removing the genocide mechanism but managing its optics. This decision to stay loyal to the denial coalition is what keeps the current ruling coalition afloat. Dink was not murdered when those shots were fired. His murder continues. Just because you distanced yourself from the hitmen at that time, does not make you innocent today.