Top state organ’s report may be a turning point in Dink case: Lawyer
ISTANBUL-Hürriyet Daily News
Having worked nearly a decade as a lawyer, Cem Halavurt sees the problems in the Turkish judicial system as the pains of development. "Sometimes there is a step forward, sometimes a step backward," he says.A top state body’s recent suggestion that civil servants should have been investigated during the Hrant Dink murder case effectively indicates that his killing was not an ordinary hit, a lawyer for the slain Turkish-Armenian journalist has said.
The report of the Presidency’s State Supervisory Council (DDK) could be a turning point since it is a reaction to an Istanbul court’s decision that ruled that the assassination was not the work of an organization, said lawyer Cem Halavurt.
“The report says what we have been saying for the past five years,” Halavurt said in a recent interview with the Hürriyet Daily News.
Q: What does the Presidency’s State Supervisory Council (DDK) tell us?
A: It says the murder of Hrant Dink remains unsolved, it says the responsibilities of the civil servants should have been investigated but that [those servants] were not brought to justice, and, finally, it criticizes our justice system.
Q: To what degree does it overlap with your objections on the case?
A: Our objections form the basis of the report. As we were not satisfied with the proceedings of the trial, we had asked the DDK to prepare a report. It’s a very important trial in Turkey’s history. The DDK has not done a favor, it was within the state’s responsibility to do that kind of exercise.
Q: What makes this trial so important for Turkey?
A: A very important intellectual and journalist has been murdered. And he is Armenian. This is a trial about freedom of expression as well as minorities. The unfolding of the trial has shown that some criminal organizations within the state have played a role in [the murder]. This trial has become important to unearth these centers of crime.
A: It does implicitly. By saying that there should have been an investigation into the civil servants, it accepts that this is not an ordinary murder. The DDK said the civil servants should have been investigated not only for negligence but also for instigating [the killing] or taking part in the murder. By saying this, it shows its reaction to the way the trial ended [in which the court ruled there was no organization behind the murder]. If it is not an ordinary murder, then it is organized murder.
Q: Would you name the organization you suspect to be behind the murder as Ergenekon?
A: We see that many suspects in the Ergenekon case are related to it. Veli Küçük and Kemal Kerinçsiz played an active role in targeting Hrant Dink. As a link cannot be established with concrete evidence, we are unable to say Ergenekon is behind it. But there are a lot of [factors] that point to Ergenekon.
Q: There has been an effort to link Dink’s murder with the April 2007 murders of missionaries in Malatya, as well as the February 2006 killing of Father Andrea Santoro in Trabzon. Why so?
A: Looking at the outcomes and the way these murders were committed, prosecutors tried to prove that these acts were committed for the same purpose – namely, to erode the government and create chaos. They were unable to establish links between them or directly link them with Ergenekon. But the fact that these murders came one after the other seems to show that they were organized from one center and committed for the same purpose.
Q: Will the DDK report be a turning point in the process?
A: It’s not a turning point as far as the main trial where the two suspects were found guilty. Those who were found guilty were used. But if we are talking about the whole case, yes. Because it is the presence of suspects other than those found guilty that is important to us. If this is the work of an organization within the state, it is important for us to unearth it. But it could prove to be a turning point to find the real culprits.
Q: What makes you say this? The report is not binding.
A: A top state institution is saying what we have been saying for the past five years. This is at the same time a confession. The state confessed that the investigations were not done properly. It is also a confession about the bureaucracy’s resistance about bringing civil servants to justice. There is a perception in Turkey that civil servants don’t commit crimes. But it is seen that even top-level civil servants can get involved in crimes.
Q: What might a concrete consequence of the DDK report be?
A: The prosecutors could become encouraged to pursue this issue. There is an investigation that was opened in 2011 about the responsibilities of the civil servants whose opening we had asked for following a decision by the European Court of Human Rights.
Q: Why would those who have acted with a defensive reflex and abstained from investigating civil servants now change their mind?
A: They might not change their mind. But the report says: Don’t protect them, bring them to justice. It says there is a political will. The state wants you to pursue this. In the past the state did not want anyone to pursue [any possible illegal act within the state]. The report shows us that this concept has changed.
Q: But there has been a pursuit of illegal acts committed by the state; several soldiers are in jail, for instance. Why is there a double standard?
A: I believe that’s the most important part with the report. The DDK saw this reality: Not one single person has been brought to justice from the Ankara or Trabzon police departments. It says do something if there is an illegal activity among the police, not just in the army. If there is any involvement in the crime within the police, they should be judged, too. At least that’s how I’d like to read it.
Q: What is your explanation for this discriminatory attitude?
A: Maybe we can explain it with political balances within the state, or balances between institutions or the mentality that is dominant in those institutions. There is no longer a mentality that says, “You can’t chase the police.” I think we are there at this point.
Q: Are you crystal clear about why Hrant Dink was murdered?
A: I believe it is too complex and complicated. But there are still some points that are crystal clear to me. When the EU reforms started in 2000 with laws on minorities – laws that were expanding the framework of freedoms – a nationalist group [began] planning and acted to stop this process. I think these groups existed within the army and the police. I believe interest groups that wanted the continuation of the status quo and who were against Turkey becoming more democratic have a role in this murder. But is that the only reason? No. We also saw that within the reformist group that was standing against the other group [which favored the status quo] are personalities that have contributed to the crime.
Q: What do you mean by reformist group?
A: The mentality that undertook these reforms, which is materialized in the ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] government, which is in a coalition with the Fethullah Gülen movement. We saw that they have profited from the outcomes of this murder. They have used this murder against their opponents. So it is a rather complex case.
Q: So you believe the Fethullah Gülen movement remained silent on a murder that said “I am coming?”
A: Ramazan Akyürek [the head of the Trabzon Police Department at the time], who is known to be from the Gülen movement, is a key name and while he knew [about the murder plot], he did not do anything. In my view, the nationalists and the Fethulah Gülen group saw the murder coming. They both agreed on the commitment of the murder. They all wanted to profit from the outcomes of the murder.
Q: How so?
A: Some are using this in order to challenge its opponents. There is a power struggle in the courtroom. Two admirals in the “Kafes” [Cage] case wanted to be part of the Hrant Dink trial; they are saying that it is because they wanted to prevent the murder that they are now in prison.
There is a power struggle going on through the court cases.
Q: Why would the Gülen group want to see Dink killed?
A: The Ergenekon investigation actually started after Dink’s murder. It is the first act that triggered the investigation. They may have turned a blind eye so that it triggered the Ergenekon investigation.
Q: How does the trial affect the Armenian community?
A: At the beginning, the reaction shown had created hope that lasted for five years. Now, there is huge disappointment and unease. The murder was already a trauma, but despair multiplied when they saw that the murder was not brought to light. It also creates confusion, because at the same time we are at a period when we think there are improvements [on minority rights]. But with this attitude in the Dink case, they just can’t figure it out.
Q: How do you see the situation in general?
A: I see it as the pains of development, the clash between what exists currently and what should be. From time to time there is a leap forward; from time to time there is a backward step. But I think the political will realizes that it cannot stay in power by protecting legal wrongdoings; on the contrary, it can stay in power by fighting these wrongdoings.
Q: But do you think the government was supportive enough in this case?
A: At least the government did not show resistance. In the past there would have been resistance. The state tradition would be prone to protect wrongdoings within the state. There are bureaucratic institutions that are still resisting and maybe the political will did not have enough power to overcome [these institutions].
İsmail Cem Halavurt graduated from Istanbul University’s Law Faculty in 2002. He has been working as a freelance lawyer in Istanbul since 2003.
After completing a certificate program prepared by the Istanbul Bar’s Criminal Trial Processes branch, Halavurt began advocacy work at the Istanbul Special Authority Courts for Serious Crimes.
Halavurt is a member of the Human Rights Association (İHD), and has worked as an activist for the association’s minority rights commission.
In addition, Halavurt has recently acted as an intervening lawyer in well-known cases such as the Zirve Publishing House trial, which is investigating the murder of three Christian missionaries in Malatya, as well as the “Kafes” (Cage) plan trial, under which soldiers are accused of plotting attacks on Turkey’s minorities, especially Armenians, to make it appear as if the government’s policies were encouraging Islamic extremism in Turkey.