Armenian journalist murder case concludes after 14 years, family to appeal ruling

Former police chiefs Ramazan Akyürek and Ali Fuat Yılmazer were sentenced to life in prison without parole in the murder trial of Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, while a third former police chief, Reşat Altay, was acquitted, news network NTV reported on Friday.

Journalist Ercan Gün was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his involvement in the murder of Dink, in front of the Istanbul offices of Armenian-Turkish bilingual newspaper on Jan. 19, 2007.

Seventy-six suspects were facing charges, including failure to uncover the plot to Dink, editor-in-chief of Agos and advocate of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, whose death sparkednationwide protests in and widespread international outrage.

The cases against former Istanbul police chief Celaleddin Cerrah and former intelligence director Sabri Uzun were dropped due to a statute of limitations.

The Istanbul court handling the case removed 13 of the accused to face trial in a separate case.

Among the 13 suspects was Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States who Turkey holds responsible for a failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016.

The court said Dink’s murder had been committed in line with the goals of FETÖ, or the Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation, the name Turkey uses for Gülen’s followers, and pressed charges on Ogün Samast, the then-teenager who pulled the trigger killing Dink.

The court also pressed charges against Erhan Tuncel, who had intelligence connections, Yasin Hayal, who Samast said was the instigator of the crime, and Tuncay Uzundal.

Former gendarmerie captain Muharrem Demirkale was sentenced to two counts of life in prison without parole for assisting a first-degree murder and violating the constitution.

Okan Şimşek, Veysal Şahin, and former gendarmerie commander in the northern Trabzon province Ali Öz were sentenced to 25 years in prison each for first degree murder, and another three years and four months for forgery.

A total of 33 suspects were acquitted, while 27 suspects were convicted to prison sentences, including four life sentences and two life sentences without parole.

“With the Hrant Dink murder verdict, the suspects said to be from the Cemaat (Gülen movement) were sentenced to life in prison, while those who weren’t were acquitted,” tweeted Garo Paylan, an Armenian deputy from the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). “The court covered up complicity in accordance with the intrastate power balance.”

Dink’s family issued a statement after the verdict was out, pointing to the complexities of the murder and the level of state involvement.

“This murder occurred at the end of a three-year-long process of targeting and threats, and included the Chief of Staff, politicians, the judiciary, media, and so-called civil society organisations that were guided by the state,” the Dink family said in their statement.

Hrant Dink had written an article entitled “Why was I chosen as a target?” a week before his death, the family said.

Dink had faced prosecution for “insulting Turkishness” over an article he wrote, where he used a metaphor that included phrase “the toxic blood to flow out of the Turk."

Turkish courts interpreted the phrase to be insulting to Turks, while the journalist maintained that he referred to the toxicity in the century-long Armenian issue in Turkey, and a need for Turkish Armenians to build ties with Armenia.

In his article, Dink said the process had been “an operation for the deep state to put me in my place”.

“Many things he mentioned in this article based on his experience and intuition was later proven (to be true) by evidence,” the family said.

The family said the trial had failed to dismantle the mechanism of “negligence, cover-ups, obstruction of evidence and misdirection” and would therefore not convince them or the larger public.

Some of the prison sentences in the case  were contradictory an dappeared to “punish not the evil deed itself but the leaking of the evil deed,” they said.

The murder of Dink not being investigated properly when it occurred would be directly related to the death of hundreds of people on the night failed coup attempt, if the conclusion the trial reached was true, the family said.

“Wouldn’t hundreds of families, loved ones need to hold (the investigation) to account then?,’’ they said. “If this case is closed as it stands, by slapping the the ‘FETÖ’ label on the ancient deep state and fails to conduct an effective investigation, then who will be responsible for the lives to be lost in future years?”

The Dink family called for transparency, democracy, and a full confrontation with the murder.

The family is set to appeal the ruling.

“We couldn’t make out the answers to how Hrant Dink was killed or who ordered the hit from this trial. The shroud of mystery still has not been lifted,” the current editor-in-chief for Agos, Yetvart Danzikyan, was cited by news website T24 as saying.