Hrant Dink, 11 years on

What can I write about him? Which memory can I discuss after 11 years? I don’t know.

He was Turkey’s Martin Luther King, Jr. He was not just someone who paid the ultimate price for voicing the historical tragedies suffered by Armenians. Lying on the pavement, with holes in the soles of his shoes, he was a symbol of the struggles Turkey has lived through and a hope for the future. He was a symbol of the fight for democracy and human rights. The hole in his shoe was as if waiting to sprout hope.

I don’t know if you will agree; right, left, Muslim, secular, Alevi, Kurd, Turk, it makes no difference. When his name comes up, a great many Turkish people cast their eyes down. Even if they had something to say, they don’t, they remain silent and respectful.

I have often thought about this. “Why is it like this?”

My answer is, he is the wound of Turkey’s conscience. Deep down, but unable to put it into words, we feel great shame and guilt. The hole in the sole of his shoe was a reflection of this.

When he was alive, he was forsaken and forced into solitude. He became a martyr to this deep loneliness. This is the reason why we feel great pangs in our hearts each time we think of him.

I am one of the people who feel this pain in my conscience.

It was December 2006. I went straight to him upon landing in Istanbul. “Come, my pain in the neck,” he said. “You caused me problems, again. They brought charges against us because of what you wrote.”

I was to appear in court on Jan. 4, but he did not forget his courtesy or gentlemanliness. “It’s up to you, you don’t have to go,” he said. But, if I did not go, because of something I wrote, his son Arat Dink and older brother Sarkis would be arrested. Of course, I could not let this happen.

On Jan. 4, I went to court with Arat, Fethiye Cetin, Erdal Dogan, and testified. We returned to Agos afterwards. Fethiye, Erdal, Hrant and I sat down. We were talking. He was very, very concerned. Very frightened. “I am being a pessimist, “ he said. He opened up his computer, read one of the threatening emails he had received. Someone had threatened to kill his son and dispose of his body.

Till then, he had not told anyone, nor written about the time in February 2004, when he was called to the Istanbul governor’s office and threatened. We had entreated him to reveal this threat, but he kept saying “no”.

“It is a fight they want and it is a fight I won’t give them.” He did not say anything then.

But, when the threats and attacks grew, he changed his mind and said, “I am going to write about it now.” I believe it was his last article, written on Jan. 12.

When we were talking, I said, “look, Hrant, we are going through some very bad times. They are not going to let the AKP pick a president. Then, they are going to say that the AKP can’t rule the country, that they pull the strings, and they are going to throw the country into chaos. I expect there will be political murders. They are going to kill well-known journalists and politicians. If I were planning these killings, I would put you at the top of the list. They will kill you first. If I were you, I would not wait, I would leave the country immediately.” 

He didn’t say anything.

“Get out, and don’t come back until May. If the problem is a visa, I can send you an invitation,” I said.

“No, the problem is not a visa,” he said. “I have a visa. I really miss my country when I leave. I am afraid that if I leave now, I won’t be able to come back, ever.”

I think he knew he was going to be killed and was waiting for death. That same evening, we walked towards the restaurant we always go to, Boncuk, on Istiklal Street. While we were walking, he said, “I am not afraid of the charges they have brought against me. I can handle those. But, I am afraid to walk in the streets now. I am afraid someone is going to shoot me in the head, or knife me in the back. “

That’s how he died…

That evening, something strange happened at Boncuk. We usually sat on the top floor, but it was full. We were forced to sit on the ground floor, by a window. He was very uneasy. Flinching, he kept looking around. Fahri Aral was with us, too. By coincidence, Selim Deringil saw us, and came and sat with us for a while, then left.

There were some people sitting at the table next to us. One of them, I think recognised me first, and came and introduced himself. When he saw Hrant, he immediately started to speak. He said his name was Mustafa Kemal, really, and that he was a retired MIT agent. You could see fear in Hrant’s eyes. “You are very uneasy, very frightened,” the man said. He continued, “There is no reason to be frightened. I know your situation. It was discussed in Ankara, I know, nothing is going to happen to you.” Then, he left. It was an extremely surreal experience.

Hrant didn’t know what to say.

Feelings of hopelessness, loneliness and left all alone…

He had made up his mind. “If they give me a prison sentence, I will just leave,” he said. But, he wasn’t thinking of something as simple as getting on a plane and leaving. He was going to forsake the country that had forsaken him…

He explained what he was going to do at length, several times. “I am going to take the same road as my ancestors did in 1915 to leave to this country.” This is what he thought. All his family would go to Malatya, where he was born, and from there, follow the path his ancestors had been forced to take in 1915 and walk to Syria.

“They didn’t want my ancestors in this country, now they don’t want me. Then, I am going to take the same path that my ancestors were forced to, with the understanding that I will never return to this country.”

If he had not been killed, he would most likely have done this.

Eleven years later, seeing the situation in the country, my question is this: Are we going to be able to keep Hrant and those like him in this country. And, will that hole in the shoe sprout hope?