Suspect arrested over death threats to Hrant Dink Foundation

(Updates with joint statement against threats)

A suspect has been arrested over death threats made to the Hrant Dink Foundation, founded after the assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, Turkey's General Directorate of Security (EGM) said on Saturday.

A statement by the EGM said that the suspect H.A. had been tracked by their email address to an address in Konya, central Turkey.

The suspect has been taken into custody by Konya's anti-terrorism branch and judicial proceedings have been initiated against them, the statement said.

On Friday, the Hrant Dink Foundation said that it had received a death threat via email.

The email demanded that the foundation leave Turkey, accused it of “telling tales of fraternity”, and threatened Rakel Dink, Hrant Dink’s widow and a lawyer at the foundation, with death, the foundation said in a statement on May 29.

The threat included the phrase “We may turn up one night, when you least expect it”, a slogan used frequently by nationalist groups, “and the very same slogan we were well used to hearing before Hrant Dink was so publicly assassinated, and within the knowledge of official bodies, on 19 January, 2007,” the foundation said. 

The phrase “We may turn up one night, when you least expect it” was used by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before recent Turkish military incursions into Syria.

Hrant Dink frequently spoke out on the Armenian genocide and Armenian rights in Turkey, and he was prosecuted a number of times for “denigrating Turkey” and “insulting Turkish identity.”

He was shot dead on Jan. 19, 2007 in front of the main office of the Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper Agos in the Şişli district of Istanbul. 

Ogün Samast, then a 17-year-old jobless high-school dropout, confessed to the killing and was sentenced to almost 23 years in jail in 2011. 

It later emerged that security forces had been aware of a plot to kill Dink but failed to act. Dink’s relatives and followers of the case have claimed that government officials, police, military personnel and members of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) played a role in Dink’s murder by failing to protect the journalist.

The Hrant Dink Foundation was established in 2007 to “carry on Hrant’s dreams, Hrant’s struggle, Hrant’s language and Hrant’s heart,” its mission statement says, through  “a culture of dialogue, empathy and peace”.

In its statement on the death threat, the foundation warned that a racist, discriminatory and hateful discourse encouraged such threats and stressed its commitment to working for the rights of all groups in Turkey and equality for all citizens. 

“We believe that it is our duty to make this unfortunate announcement to emphasise the seriousness of the climate created and to remind all authorities of their responsibilities,” the statement said. 

Several opposition politicians spoke out to condemn the threats made against the foundation. 

“Threats against the Hrant Dink Foundation are the product of a political climate that promotes discrimination. We will defend everyone against discrimination and racism, and we will not abandon Rakel Dink and her colleagues in the foundation,” Ali Babacan, the former deputy prime minister from Turkey’s ruling party who founded the rival Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) in March, said on Twitter.

Mithat Sancar, the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said on Twitter: “Those who murdered dear Hrant 13 years ago are now sending death threats to the Hrant Dink Foundation! We stand by the Hrant Dink Foundation against these nodes of evil that feed and encourage a mentality that spreads hate speech and normalises racism.”

Garo Paylan, a HDP lawmaker of Armenian descent, condemned the threats. 

“Threats against the Hrant Dink foundation are a product of the climate of hate the government has created. We failed to protect Hrant Dink. Let us not abandon those he trusted us with," Paylan said. 

The Future Party, led by former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who broke away from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said in a statement that Davutoğlu had phoned Rakel Dink to express solidarity.

“Fighting together for the building of law, justice and social peace will be the most meaningful and powerful message to these dark forces," the party said in a statement.

The death threat came after two attacks on Armenian churches in Istanbul this month. 

A man suspected of vandalising a church in the Istanbul neighbourhood of Kuzguncuk was arrested on Thursday. 

Around two weeks ago a vandal attempted to burn the door of an Armenian church in the Istanbul neighbourhood of Bakırköy.

Earlier this month, Turkish magazine Gerçek Hayat published a special 176-page edition which accused Armenians and other Christians in Turkey of terrorist activities and blamed them for participating in the failed 2016 coup attempt. 

“It is common for persecution incidents to increase whenever hate speech in the Turkish media is published,” the Christian magazine Persecution said.

A study by the Hrant Dink Foundation in 2019 found that Jews and Armenians were the two most frequent targets of hate speech in Turkish media. Its report found 4,839 editorials and news reports targeting national, ethnic and religious groups, with 6,517 pieces of hate speech content against 98 different groups in 2018.

Jews and Armenians were followed by Syrians, Greeks and Christians, according to the report.

In October 2019, the foundation was refused a permit to hold an international conference on the Greek and Armenian heritage of Turkey’s central province of Kayseri.

In January 2020, the foundation reopened Dink’s office to the public as a memorial due to the “symbolic significance of the site and its place in the collective memory”. Every year on Jan. 19, thousands gather in front of the building where Dink was killed to commemorate the slain journalist.

The Hrant Dink Foundation’s work involves publishing books, creating archives, organising summer schools, organising cultural festivals, and giving awards in Dink’s memory. 

It says that it works towards developing cultural relations among the peoples of Turkey, Armenia and Europe; supporting democracy in Turkey; and recognising and promoting cultural diversity and equal opportunity. 

It says that it follows Hrant Dink’s mantra:

Come, let us first understand each other...
Come, let us first respect each other’s pain...
Come, let us first let one another live…

More than 200 activists, politicians, artists, writers and journalists released a joint statement on Monday condemning threats against the foundation, and other recent attacks against Turkey’s religious minorities.

“We see the recent provocative attacks, occuring one after another, not as isolated incidents but as fostered by a discourse of bile and hatred, which has been emitted irresponsibly and spread among the masses,” the statement said.

“We never accept a mentality that ‘raises a murderer from a baby’ or a system that is dominated by such a mentality,” it continued, referring to Rakel Dink’s quote after Hrant Dink’s murder.

“Nothing can be achieved unless we question the darkness that turns a baby into a murderer, my brothers and sisters,” Rakel Dink had said in a letter she read at her husband’s funeral.