Hrant Dink: "I have the right to die in the country I was born in"


The journalist's last interview he granted to Ellen Rudnitsky and Mirko Schwanitz, International Organization of Journalists, two days before he was murdered.

QUESTION. Mr. Dink, you speak up in your weekly Agos not only for the Armenian minority but also for all minorities there are in Turkey. Are you not afraid?

ANSWER. Sure, I am. To be honest, I feel haunted day in, day out. Ever seen a pigeon? Seen how it keeps turning its head? It shudders at the slightest noise, ready to fly away any instant. Can you call that life? The difference is that I can't fly away like a pigeon.

Q. In the past few months you have landed in the dock twice for allegedly insulting the Turkish nation. Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk was also indicted-but never convicted, as you were. How is that?

A. I had a suspended six months' sentence. The notorious Paragraph 301 stipulates criminal liability for insulting Turkish national identity-and no one knows why some people are convicted and others acquitted. The European Union has every reason to demand that the paragraph be abolished. Its wording gives every judge a free hand. I had no luck with mine. He alleged I said Turks had unclean blood. Absurd.

Q. Agos, the weekly you are publishing, has a very small circulation, but some people in Turkey find it dangerous. Why, do you think?

A. That's right. Our print run is roughly 6,000 copies, but it is read by many more people than that, both in and outside Turkey. That's what worries certain forces.

Q. The Agos is considered the Armenian community's press outlet. Why do you publish it in Turkish, as well as Armenian?

A. That's just what makes it so dangerous to certain nationalistic circles in this country. The Agos tells the truth about the Armenian genocide. At the same time, we present it as part of history, and urge our readers to learn the lesson it teaches. We think of the Agos as a tool for education and reconciliation. At the same time, we hold up a mirror to the Turkish public. We say out loud: If Turkey really wants to join the EU, it has to acknowledge its historical responsibility and put an end to coercive assimilation of all minorities. All citizens of this country must have equal rights.

Q. Your struggle brought you last year's Henri Nannen free press award, didn't it?

A. It makes me proud and sad at once-because one can't be happy about what brought me the award. A country anxious to become part of the EU does not take basic human rights for granted. That's bad. I would like to get my prize for something positive, for example, for Turkey's democratic progress.

Q. Is it really so bad to be an Armenian in Turkey?

A. You have hardly any problems if you hold your tongue. As for me, I found it hard even in my teens to join the chorus singing how proud we were of being Turks. Certainly, this country has a great deal to be proud of-but I am not a Turk, after all. Community activists often refer to Armenian schools and orphanages in this country, but they never say that children who become involved in politics are expelled from such schools. That was what happened to me.

Q. It seems you cause irritation wherever you turn, and not only among Turkish nationalists but also among the Left politicians whom you sympathized with in your young days.

A. When I was a young man, I thought class struggle rested on the truth and social rights, not ethnicity. That's where I was wrong. I was shocked to see even the Left forces in Turkey refuse to acknowledge the Armenian genocide. They turn a blind eye to everything that has a bearing on ethnic identity. That's the worst of it all. As for me, I think to work for preserving one's identity, for the right to live according to one's own cultural traditions means to fight for the most important cause. I don't think my Turkish friends would like to see their native language and culture banned-but that's just what Turkish politicians have been doing to Armenians for many decades now, and not to Armenians alone.

Q. When did you first feel really discriminated against?

A. When I finished my active service, I wanted to go on with my military career and become a commissioned officer. I was married then, and had two children. My wife was expecting our third child. I passed officer examinations with many of my Turkish fellow servicemen. After that, all applicants were called one by one to get their certificates. I was never summoned-the only one on the list. That was when I realized that although Turkey was a secular state, a non-Muslim could never qualify as an officer. That day, I first knew what it truly felt like to be an Armenian in Turkey.

Q. You mean it was Turks who, in a way, made you an Armenian rights activist?

A. That's right. That day was a turning point in my life. That was when I founded the Agos, Turkey's first and only bilingual newspaper-which it stays to this day. I wanted to give Turks an idea of Armenian problems, and create a forum for discussing those problems. That was a hard job at first because Armenians still felt too hunted-down to speak out. But we knew no other way to fight deep-rooted prejudice. "Armenian" was a derogatory word, and Armenians were thought of as terrorists, on a par with the PKK, Kurdistan Workers Party-so the Agos was to become the Turkish community's mirror.

Q. And what was the result?

A. We became part and parcel of the changes everyone who has eyes to see notices in Turkey. The Agos is a bridge between the Armenian and Turkish ethnic communities. There are more and more voices in our support. Orhan Pamuk's is one of those voices. There are many other Turkish intellectuals among our readers.

Q. You asked in the latest Agos issue: "What makes me a target?" What is it, really?

A. The answer concerns Armenians more than Turks. Too many of us try to hide away at the slightest sign of danger. I am not one of them, I daresay. What does hiding lead to? You Germans have firsthand knowledge of it from history, and not you alone. That's what makes me a prospective victim, and I am not the only one. The same applies to my family. How, do you think, my wife and children feel when I receive threats every day, some over the phone, others by e-mail? I compared myself to a pigeon earlier because the bird wants to be free, however frightened it might be. That's what I work for-I want liberty for all of us. I want things to change someday.

Q. Could you leave this country?

A. You, of all people, saying that? My friends keep telling me the same thing. Enough of that. I want to carry on my cause here. It is not my own personal cause. It concerns everyone who wants to see Turkey a democratic country. If I surrender and emigrate, the shame will be on us all. This is the land of my ancestors. I have my roots here, and I have the right to die in the country I was born in.

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