The conference on the history of the Diyarbakir region, held last November in Diyarbakir, came to an end. The final word would be for Rakel Dink, widow of Hrant. The Hrant Dink Foundation was one of the organizers of the conference. She came forward, and whereas everybody expected a speech, she started to sing. A Kurdish song. She sounded and looked so vulnerable. That song sung by this Armenian woman who grew up in a Kurdish community, brought the history of the Diyarbakir region back to heartbreaking human proportions. Many people couldn’t hold back their tears.

The life story of Rakel Dink, (maiden name Yaghbasan), is a remarkable one. She was born in a village in the southeast of Turkey, the daughter of a leader of an Armenian clan, known as the Ermeni Varto clan. Several families of the clan escaped from the genocide in 1915 and settled in the Cudi mountains, in the present-day province of Sirnak. They lived there for twenty five years, isolated from the outside world.

When they finally came down from the mountains, they found the lands they had lived on had been taken over by Kurds. They partly assimilated with them: over time, for example, they came to speak Kurdish better than Armenian, and they started dressing in traditional Kurdish clothing. But at the same time the clan life persisted: there were no intercultural marriages, and, being very religious, they kept respecting Christian traditions. That’s the society Rakel was born in, in 1959. Her father sent her to Istanbul when she was nine years old, to get an Armenian education – she was the first child to leave the lands the clan came from.

In Istanbul, Rakel lived in an Armenian orphanage. That is where she became Armenian again, rather than a Kurdish-speaking Armenian. That is where she met Hrant. They grew up together and eventually got married – her father resisted the marriage for some time because Hrant was not a clan member. They had three children.

Rakel is now the only Ermeni Varto clan member who still lives in Turkey. The whole clan moved to Istanbul some decades ago, and moved to Belgium about thirty years ago to escape the hardening stance towards Armenians in Turkey. Exactly five years ago today, Rakel became a widow.


Before her husband was brutally killed, Rakel was not very much in the foreground. She stood behind her husband. Now, the circumstances force her to be more visible. She spoke to the thousands and thousands of people who attended the funeral of her husband, and after that, she gave speeches more often. In public, at conferences, in court (of which you can read an example here). Before every court hearing, the group ‘Friends of Hrant Dink’ organized gatherings to demand justice, and Rakel would always be there. It always hurt me to see these pictures. Her face in such agony. Look at this picture, from when Hrant was still alive.

I would want to ask Rakel if she feels lonely. She is seperated from her clan and family due to the way Turkey, her home land, has treated Armenians, it’s own citizens. Her husband got killed for the very same reason. No justice has been done in the court case against the killers, again for the very same reason. There are many people who support Rakel, and today in the walk to commemorate her husband there will be thousands marching with her. Does that give her enough strength to not feel intensly lonely? Or would she never describe herself as lonely in the first place, because she is rooted in such strong traditions and in such strong family ties that she always feels connected? She is a very religious woman: till what extend does religion help her to cope, and did she ever, if only for a second, lose her faith in God?


Rakel Dink tops the list of people in Turkey that I would love to interview. But she doesn’t give interviews. Not until the court case against the murderers of her husband is over. The case came to an end this week. But the verdict denies what everybody knows: the state was behind it, and it got inspired by the state ideology that doesn’t accept anybody who doesn’t fit the one size fits all identity of being a (Sunni) Moslim and a Turk.

The lawyers of the Dink family are determined to push through and go as far as they can to get the truth out and the perpetrators punished. I wonder how many more years before the case can really be closed. I wonder what the outcome will be, and if and how it will help reshape Turkey. Will it eventually give Rakel the feeling that justice is done? To her husband and herself, to her community and the country she too is a daughter of? For now, the questions remain unasked, unanswered. I wish her all the strength she needs.

13 replies
  1. Candide
    Candide says:

    I am not well informed about the recent verdict and just read it is not fair enough and heard that case is not over yet.
    However I have objections on your sentence :
    “The case came to an end this week. But the verdict denies what everybody knows: the state was behind it, and it got inspired by the state ideology that doesn’t accept anybody who doesn’t fit the one size fits all identity of being a (Sunni) Moslim and a Turk.”

    1. You are manipulating your readers by telling “verdict denies what everybody knows…”. That is not true…
    2. You are manipulating your readers again by “it got inspired by the state ideology that doesn’t accept anybody who doesn’t fit the one size fits all identity of being a (Sunni) Moslim and a Turk.”
    Because most of the people here in Europe does not even know the fact that Turkey used to be and still is (by ruling AKP it is changing though) a secular country with no state religion.
    All what you are telling here is a claim/assertion that is made by many people. I am not going to say I’m against it immediately but the problem is you are NOT OBJECTIVE. You hide the information from people and giving them heavily debatable, biased information here. So this is plain manipulation. Sorry…

    I thought being objective is a very important virtue for press members like yourself.

  2. Fréderike
    Fréderike says:

    Candide, it’s a huge misunderstanding that a journalist always has to be objective. In my blogposts, I usually don’t intend to be objective, but give my view. That’s not manipulation, it’s called opinion. Read more about it in this blogpost: http://ow.ly/1EjUhZ.

  3. Candide
    Candide says:

    I read your blog you referred. I see your point and of course you don’t need to be objective. Particularly in a blog. However you use your profession/title journalist and you are followed by a good amount of people. Basically that might create some expectations about your arguments.

    “verdict denies what everybody knows: the state was behind it” is very vague.
    Same stands for
    “got inspired by the state ideology that doesn’t accept anybody who doesn’t fit the one size fits all identity”

    I’m a scientist so I would avoid to go into discussion about opinions, being objective and journalism but please understand me as a reader of your blogs, when I take account you are a journalist I am naturally expecting a wider perspective rather than vague opinions.

    As I am telling you again, here in Europe people don’t know the fact that Turkey is a secular country. I would expect you to realize that and before expressing your opinion it would be very nice to give a broader perspective first.

    Here you are almost asserting that a person who is not Turk and Sunni might be murdered by people supported by state. So that’s where the manipulation is IMHO.

  4. Fréderike Geerdink
    Fréderike Geerdink says:

    Candide, thanks for reading that and getting the point. I do disagree totally with you about Turkey being a secular country without a state religion. What is it that is *obligatory* thought in Turkish schools then? What is it that the *state* directorate of religious affairs, Diyanet, is doing? Which version of Islam do all the imams, paid by the state, *obligatory* preach in Turkish *state owned* mosques? It is the Turkish state version of Sunni Islam. Let me mention Alevi children, who are still obligatory to follow the state imposed religious lessons at school, which tells them nothing about their own religion, and about these Alevi children being ridiculed at school, even by teachers sometimes. Turkey calls itself secular, but the way religion is regulated, has not much to do with separating state and religion.

  5. Candide
    Candide says:

    Dear Frederike,
    I understand your arguments and some of them are quite debatable. Most of them are a consequence of right wing politics over the years. However :

    Nine years after its introduction, laïcité was explicitly stated in the second article of the then Turkish constitution on February 5, 1937. The current Constitution of 1982 neither recognizes an official religion nor promotes any. This includes Islam, to which at least nominally more than 99% of its citizens subscribe.[1]
    Turkey’s “laïcité” does not call for a strict separation of religion and the state, but describes the state’s stance as one of “active neutrality.” Turkey’s actions related with religion are carefully analyzed and evaluated through the Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı (English: Presidency of Religious Affairs). The duties of the Presidency of Religious Affairs are “to execute the works concerning the beliefs, worship, and ethics of Islam, enlighten the public about their religion, and administer the sacred worshipping places”.[2]

    The fact I’m talking about is totally linked to this reality. Supported by 1982 constitution. I agree with most of the critics there. But still finding your argument of “who doesn’t fit the one size fits all identity of being a (Sunni) Moslim and a Turk” too extreme.

    -“Obligatory thought in Turkish schools” (you are totally right and it is being discussed for many years)
    -“What is it that the *state* directorate of religious affairs, Diyanet, is doing?” – For able to understand that you have to look back 1924 and before. Then you can understand the initial motivation.
    -“Which version of Islam do all the imams, paid by the state, *obligatory* preach in Turkish *state owned* mosques? It is the Turkish state version of Sunni Islam.” (again debatable but I agree). However again you are looking from very narrow perspective when you say state owned mosques. In Ottoman Empire more or less everything was Sultan’s property so the mosques. It is quite different dynamics than in Europe where different sects have their own properties (correct me if I am wrong). Sorry but then nobody privatized all those mosques because of all that historical background (basically there is no notion). If it is a irritant factor for you and a motivation for premature conclusions then this information may help.

    Coming to the Alevi children example. I agree again. The problem is similar things are happening here in Holland and Germany against Turkish pupils when they speak Turkish in school or in France when a Turkish student denying Armenian genocide (or there are different examples and incidents). Then it is a nusiance !!!.
    But when things happening in Turkey it is state supported human rights violence !
    Stay tuned ! 🙂

  6. Fréderike Geerdink
    Fréderike Geerdink says:

    Candide, glad you agree with my secularism points. The comparison with Turkish children speaking Turkish in school however, is a useless comparison. We are talking about religion here. In the Netherlands, in state schools children are taught about all religions and often celebrate at least the religious feasts of the religions represented in class. Everybodies religion is the same for the law. That’s not the case in Turkey, and that is a difference that matters. Turkey doesn’t even carry out a verdict by the European Court of Human Rights about Alevi children and obligatory religious classes. The two situations are incomparible, and that’s because Turkey is not secular and has no sufficient freedom of religion. You bring up the comparison so I get into it, but in the end, comparisons always, in 100% of the cases, are useless. That’s not a manipulation, that’s an opinion :-p

  7. Candide
    Candide says:

    🙂 Actually you are talking about religion here. You linked it up with a court case. I am talking in a broader sense about rights of the people.
    I’d rather be careful here. If the comparison being made is useless the same approach can render your conclusion about the court useless too.
    What I try to express has two main points :
    1- Your conclusion about state supported crime is not fair and although freedom of religion is not sufficient enough still you are carrying it to a superficial dimension.
    2- I just made that comparison to show a case that things are not perfect also in some countries in some other aspects. But before making strong conclusions it is always nice to understand what is the background and what are the realities. Your ideals and things you believe might not be a good fit for some other place in this world.
    Also Turkey doesn’t need to even carry out a verdict by European Court of Human Rights but should solve this problems.
    I agree with your points but I expect you to understand Turkey has no state religion and it is backed up with constitution. In practice there can be flaws I accept that. That might happen everywhere but the whole emphasis I am making here is when you make a conclusion or put your opinion straight just consider the facts (or at least try to learn about them, understand them). You basically claim that Turkish state kills people who is not Muslim (sunni) and Turk. The conversation started from there. You are just giving some arguments in the context of freedom of religion but still your claim is there and can not be supported easily with your arguments.

    I will give you a nice example from Netherlands again. It is not a comparison but it is a nice example how things can go wrong in a country that is fully complied with EU-xyz rules acts etc…

    This is not passed yet but there are some interesting stuff/laws that has been effective.

    Finally about different perspectives as a stranger (in the Netherlands) one of things that is bizarre to me here : you are able to send your little child to a religious school. If you just say it is freedom of religion I would ask for whom ? For the parents or for the kid ? Things are sometimes quite debatable and I’d rather take my time (observe, learn, understand) then I would draw a conclusion.

  8. Fréderike Geerdink
    Fréderike Geerdink says:

    Candide, I certainly don’t claim the Turkish state kills people when they are different, I state the state doesn’t accept them. That sometimes leads to murder. Don’t put words into my mouth. For the rest: Turkey is not secular, and I don’t do comparisons.

  9. Angus Young
    Angus Young says:

    I do not agree with your statement: “the state was behind it, and it got inspired by the state ideology that doesn’t accept anybody who doesn’t fit the one size fits all identity of being a (Sunni) Moslim and a Turk.”

    What do you mean that state does not accept anybody who does not fit in this Sunni Moslim and Turk category? I am not in this subset of people and I am coming from an Alevi family and actually I do not even believe… I gew up in Turkey and I did not feel that state does not accept me!! I studied in public schools and I went to best university and I had friends from from different parts of Turkey with different backgrounds. I did not observe this reality as a native of the country, but after living a couple of years in Turkey as a foreigner you are talking about extremely sensitive issues in an extremely careless way and moreover you are blaming a state(?). I do not get what are you trying to promote here? Actually I get and I understand your purpose…

    After my university studies I came to Holland for my doctorate and I can absolutely say that being a “Turkish” foreigner in Holland is millions times worse than being an Alevi or a minority in Turkey. State, people, system, culture do not accept foreigners here … I am wondering why do not you concentrate on the issues of minorities in your own country (in order to help humanity and peace ?) but trying to promote some non-existing nationalistic ideas in Turkey? or the ideas existed some decades ago in turkey …

    Of course, it is a fact that everyone in Turkey is paying tax for the Sunni mosque, and the Alevi religion is not regarded as a “religion” rather a sect of Islam (while many Alevi people do not agree). However this would not mean that state does not accept me 🙂 I never heard from any Alevi person saying that state does not accept him/her… They complain and they are going to solve this issue (the religious ones) but not because of people like you creating hostility between cultures… Rather with communicating each other in a peaceful manner.

    I would like to read objective lines from a person who is calling herself a journalist… While we are experiencing discrimination due to our hair color in Holland you are talking about some specific Alevi/Sunni or Turkish/Kurdish problem in Turkey in an arrogant way… Are you aware of what you are doing? You are blaming people and a state based on some specific examples, which is already hurting EVERYONE in Turkey.


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