|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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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. –0–