Turkish-Armenian weekly Agos celebrates 20 years in print
ISTANBUL - Anadolu AgencyAgos, which prides itself as being the voice of Istanbul’s small Armenian community, celebrated its 20th year in print on April 5.
With an office located in Istanbul’s central Şişli district, Agos – which in Armenian means a space in the ground in which to sow seeds or, metaphorically, developing a culture – was founded 20 years ago by a group of young Armenians, including former editor-in-chief Hrant Dink.
Dink was assassinated outside the newspaper’s office in Istanbul by triggerman Ogün Samast on Jan. 19, 2007. An important figure for Turkey’s Armenian community, Dink was a tireless advocate of democratization and human rights, struggling to open discussions on political and historic matters considered taboo in Turkey.
He was repeatedly prosecuted for “denigrating Turkishness” over his articles about Armenian identity and the massacre of Armenians in 1915, described by Armenia and most historians as amounting to genocide.
Today, the Agos office is located a couple of hundred meters from its former site where Dink was gunned down in broad daylight.
The newspaper’s current editor-in-chief, Yetvart Danzikyan, became editor in February last year. He said that although leaving their former office was a difficult decision to take, staying there was equally hard.
“Walking around that plaque every day … was a heavy feeling,” Danzikyan said, referring to the small plaque at the site that reads “Hrant Dink was murdered here at 15:05 on Jan. 19, 2007.”
Although the paper has moved into a new home, Dink’s former office has been kept exactly as it was, and is set to be turned into a museum dedicated to the journalist.
Agos’ new office is a three-story building that had served as an Armenian school. The school has had no students since the 1990s and the building has been empty for more than 10 years.
Turkey has a long history of Armenian publications going back to the Ottoman Empire. Even today Istanbul still houses the Armenian community’s longest-running daily paper, Jamanak, which has been published for more than 100 years. Another daily newspaper in the Armenian language is Marmara, while there are also magazines such as Paros and Luys, as well as a publishing house called Aras that mainly works in Armenian literature and culture.
Events planned to mark Agos’ 20th anniversary
With Agos celebrating its 20th anniversary, conferences and panel discussions on Armenian matters are planned to continue throughout the whole year.
With a staff of just 18 and a weekly circulation of 4,000, Agos is a small but influential bilingual newspaper. It has a fast-growing website, which publishes in Turkish and Armenian but has also added some English articles over the last two years.
Since its foundation 20 years ago, the newspaper has focused on Turkish politics as well as issues of interest to Turkey’s 70,000-strong Armenian community and other minorities such as Kurds, Greeks and Jews.
‘Fair ruling’ in Dink trial very important
Speaking about changes in recent years, Danzikyan stressed the impact that Dink had on younger generations - not only through his work but also through the sympathy that built after his assassination.
“There is this huge reality of the Hrant Dink murder in our lives. This reality has also affected Agos’ life. Getting a fair [court] ruling is very important for Agos,” he said, suggesting that the murder had the effect of “energizing” Turkish citizens of Armenian heritage.
“They are speaking more bravely,” Danzikyan said, adding that he “could not have even imagined” this situation 20 years ago.
Prejudice against Agos persists
However, he also said prejudice against Agos still persists in Turkey.
“We always worry whenever nationalism is on the rise. Emails and offensive discourse via social media starts to come through,” Danzikyan said.
The past 20 years have seen turbulent times for this tiny newspaper, but the next two decades – with ever-improving technology – could see it extend its reach.
“We think opening a radio station could be good as a next step,” Danzikyan said, indicating that despite political turbulence and unpredictability in Turkey, Agos’ horizons continue to expand.