The ever-reinterpreted Hrant Dink murder

The ever-reinterpreted Hrant Dink murder

On Jan. 17, 2007, Hrant Dink, a Turkish Armenian intellectual and the editor-in-chief of the Istanbul-based Armenian daily newspaper, Agos, was assassinated right outside his office in one of the busiest streets in the country. The assassin, Ogün Samast, was a 17-year-old ultra-nationalist from Trabzon, a Black Sea town known for its tough guys and nationalist circles. He was apparently encouraged by his elder “brothers” to “punish the Armenian who insulted Turkishness.” It seems they were fanatic and vulgar enough to not even realize that Dink in fact never “insulted” Turks, but rather tried to reconcile them with Armenians.  

The murder sparked a widespread reaction, as tens of thousands marched in Istanbul for Dink’s funeral. Moreover, finding the “real culprits” of the murder, besides the trigger-man Samast and his closest buddy Yasin Hayal, turned into a major liberal cause.

However, there was also a broader political drama going on in Turkey at the time. The alliance between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Gülen movement was getting ready to take on the old establishment, which was packed with ultra-nationalists, some of whom shared the very same ideology that targeted Hrant Dink. That is why, in subsequent years, the Dink murder became one of the much-quoted references for the “Ergenekon” case. Accordingly, there was a heinous secularist-nationalist cabal called “Ergenekon” that had organized almost every evil in recent Turkish history, including political assassinations. Various spokesmen for both the AKP and the Gülen movement pushed for this theory, practically using the Dink murder to demonize the masters of the “Old Turkey.”

However, the co-masters of the “New Turkey” were destined to clash soon. As is well known, the AKP and the Gülen movement became the most bitter of enemies soon after toppling their common enemies. The AKP proved to be victorious in this battle, and thus initiated a zealous purge on the “parallel state” of the Gülen movement. Right now, the hunt of members of this “parallel state” is the number one item on the AKP’s agenda, especially for President Tayyip Erdoğan.

Naturally, this new threat necessitates a new history. There is therefore no wonder why Turkey’s near history is now being re-written by pro-Erdoğan commentators with an obsessive focus on the “parallel state.” In a strikingly pragmatic way, every evil attributed to “Ergenekon” just a few years ago is now being attributed to the “parallels.” The same logic works for the Dink murder as well, as the real culprits of the assassination are now defined as police chiefs that are allegedly members of the Gülen movement, instead of the gendarmarie officers who were allegedly members of “Ergenekon.”

If you ask my humble view of this, first I would say that I do not buy these politically-driven narratives. The Dink murder, like everything else, should be investigated regardless of the ruling narrative. In fact, the very fact that there is a “ruling narrative” should make us suspicious about the “truth” that it presents to us with such ardor and passion. Moreover, I also believe that evil in Turkey (like elsewhere) is less organized than what people generally believe. Ultra-nationalist hatred toward non-Muslims is such a widespread evil in Turkey that it could have targeted Dink (and other victims of that era) in less of a conspiracy than what many assume. The real culprit, in other words, may well be neither “Ergenekon” nor the “parallel state,” but rather the mere banality of evil.