Why was Turkey present in Paris but not on Hrant Dink’s march?

Why was Turkey present in Paris but not on Hrant Dink’s march?

If I had not read Hayko Bağdat’s article last week in daily Taraf, I would not have realized that there are more similarities  than meet the eye between the Charlie Hebdo killings and the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Their common point is not limited to both incidents being attacks on freedom of expression.

In his article, Bağdat recalled the first testimony of Ogün Samast, who shot Dink in front of his newspaper Agos in January 2007. Samast told the police that he first went up the stairs to meet Dink, but could not get in as he was told he had to make an appointment. “I then called Yasin Hayal [who is charged with being the instigator of the assassination]. I thought of going back to the newspaper and killing other Armenians. But Yasin said ‘there is no need,’” he said.

In other words, Dink’s colleagues at Agos could have faced a similar tragedy to that of Charlie Hebdo, where 10 journalists and two policemen were killed on Jan. 7.

As was the case with the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, which was followed by a march of solidarity by millions, a similar yet unexpected phenomenon took place in Turkey, as Dink’s funeral turned into a march attended by thousands carrying banners reading “We are all Hrant Dink; we are all Armenian.” Now, each year, the day of his murder is marked by a march.

Yesterday, on the eighth anniversary of Dink's death, mourners marched to commemorate him. Unfortunately, the event was not attended by any officials. Ministers had to attend the cabinet meeting chaired for the first time by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. However, as was underlined by Bağdat, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has preferred to abstain from the march for the past seven years.

In contrast, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made the right move and attended the solidarity march in Paris on Jan. 11. In fact, French Ambassador to Turkey Laurent Bili told me that Davutoğlu proposed to make the trip to Paris to present his condolences in person, even before a decision was made to organize a march.

Exactly why a slain Turkish journalist has been deprived of a gesture of solidarity shown to French journalists is a legitimate question that the government should answer. We know that part of the answer lies in the fact that the government has never approached Dink’s assassination with a genuine democratic reflex. Judicial proceedings have been very problematic, and if there are still some developments taking place about the case today, this is not done out of justice to Dink, but rather with the purpose of hitting at Gülenists in the police.

Dink was actually the victim of a smear campaign. At one stage, a single sentence from his column on the Armenian identity was pulled out of context and his critical approach toward the attitude of diaspora Armenians about their relations with Turkey was completely distorted. A lot of people were led to mistakenly believe that he was insulting Turkish identity, which was not the case at all. 

Currently, top Turkish officials are unfortunately making similar efforts at distortion by targeting daily Cumhuriyet. If Davutoğlu opted to go to the Paris march to show solidarity with the victims of Charlie Hebdo, then it is only natural for Cumhuriyet to print the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo to show its solidarity with the satirical magazine. However, while Cumhuriyet decided not to run the front page of the magazine - which pictured the Prophet Muhammad - it was not spared harsh criticism from both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu.

But the fact that two of its writers ran the cover page in their columns did not deserve Erdoğan and Davutoğlu’s fury. After all, the picture did not contain anything insulting; in fact, quite to the contrary. However, both Turkish leaders spoke in such a manner that many would believe that Cumhuriyet’s content was explicitly insulting the prophet. It is, of course, their right to criticize Cumhuriyet’s decision, but using such heated rhetoric shows we do not have responsible statesmen. Instead, we have politicians who resort to polemics to increase their public support.