Today in Istanbul Hrant Dink’s funeral will be held. The Turkish-Armenian journalist was killed last friday. Dink was, together with his weekly newspaper Agos, the voice of the Armenian community in Turkey. How will this comunity go on without Dink?
It’s too early, many Armenians say. To early to ask them what it means to them that Hrant Dink is no longer alive. These day’s between murder and funeral they grieve, express their anger, comfort eachother. But still: does this murder make them silent and scared, or, on the opposite, strong? That question is answered loud and clear. It will not be silent again, and there is no fear. Dink gave Armenians a voice en made their self confidence grow, is the general opinion. And nothing can take away that strength.
The location where Hrant Dink was shot Friday – the pavement in front of Agos newspaper’s office – has become a place for public mourning. Where the dead body was lying, is now a pile of flowers, candles and pictures of Dink around it. Around that a group of an estimated 500 people, who shout slogans, applaud to show their respect for the deceased and now and then sing along with Turkish or Armenian music that the next door music store is playing. People come and go, but many of them stay for hours and come back every day. Not only Armenians, but also Turks, Kurds, Greeks. In this close community it almost feels improper to ask whether someone is Armenian. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re Armenian or not”, says an older Turkish man. “This doesn’t only concern the Armenian community, but the whole of Turkey.”
The murder strikes a minority that has a sensitive position in Turkey. One day, hundreds of thousands of Armenians lived in what is now called Turkey, but because of deportations and mass killings in the beginning of the twentieth century the community was minimized. Now there’s only around 50 thousand Armenians left, and most of them don’t show their identity with pride. History makes them reluctant to do so. Hrant Dink did speak and was presumably killed because of that by an ultra nationalist.
Many Armenians among the mourners don’t hide their identity. Bedros Conkar (27) for example, who’s eyes are flaming with anger, who’s fist is in the air and starts shouting slogans again and again. “Armenians”, he says, “have to distinguish themselves from other groups in Turkey. For so long we have hidden our identity, and now that has to stop. We have to be proud. This pride we feel more and more, for a big part because Hrant Dink spoke so openly about the position of Armenians. This proces can’t be stopped.”
His vision could clash with the solidarity that was also shown in a demonstration right after the murder. Thousands of Turks from different backgrounds were attending, the most commenly used slogan was ‘We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians’. An Armenian community that distinguishes itself, would that not contradict the devotion to unity? On the opposite, says Conkar: “Hrant Dink strived for democracy, a Turkey where everybody can be who he is and where everybody can state his opinion. A society like that is stronger than nowadays Turkey, in which Hrant Dink is not the first who is killed because of his opinion and probably not the last.”
The entrance to the office of Agos is open, but is guarded by a daily changing group of Armenians. There are for example members of Armenian churches, there are members of an Armenian choir and of an Armenian radio station, and there are Armenian students. Hayko Bagdat (31), who workes for an Armenian radio programme, also believes that the emancipation that Hrant Dink (among others) started, can’t be stopped anymore. “I started Armenian radio four years ago”, he says. “Without Hrant Dink, my programme would not have existed. He started Agos ten years ago and inspired other to also let their voice be heard.” He is therefore not afraid that Armenians in Turkey have no voice left now that they lost Hrant Dink. “Dink was unique, but many Armenians feel strong enough to take over. We have to. We have to show ourselves. If not, we don’t exist.”