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23 01 2007 - I believe in the republic, in fact I would like it to become stronger and more democratic."
Campaigning editor assassinated outside his Istanbul office Jonathan Fryer Monday January 22, 2007The Guardian Hrant Dink, who was assassinated aged 52 outside the Istanbul offices of Agos, the Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper that he edited, was the most prominent advocate of mutual respect between Turkey's majoritypopulation and its Armenian minority. There have been tensions between the two communities since the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians from areas of what is now Turkey during the first worldwar. Revered by human rights activists for his stance against bigotry, he was reviled by Turkish ultra-nationalists, who considered him a traitor. He was prosecuted several times for the crime of "insulting Turkish identity" and in 2005, was sentenced to six months in jail.Recently, he had received numerous death threats, and had appealed in vain to the Turkish authorities for these to be taken seriously.Born in Malatya, Anatolia, into an Armenian family, Hrant, whose officially registered Turkish first name was Firat, was the son of a tailor whose marriage broke down during the boy's infancy. At the age ofseven, Hrant was sent to Istanbul, where he lived at the Gedikpasa Armenian orphanage. There he met his wife, Rakel. He was expelled fromhis first secondary school for "leftist" political activity, but gained admission to Istanbul University to study zoology. He began postgraduate work in the philosophy department, but dropped out to become involved in youth work. Later he ran a bookshop with his wife.In 1994, he began writing columns in the Marmara Armenian newspaper, under the pseudonym "Chootag" (violin). But he soon realised that if hewas going to pursue his goal of building bridges between ethnic Turks and the Armenian minority, he needed to have a more substantial platform. Hence the creation of the weekly Turkish-Armenian newspaperAgos, of which he was founder and editor-in-chief.His detractors accused him of undermining the Turkish state, but as he protested: "I am an Armenian from Turkey, and a good Turkish citizen.I believe in the republic, in fact I would like it to become stronger and more democratic."In recent years, along with dozens of other journalists, writers and publishers, including the Nobel prize laureate Orhan Pamuk, Dink was systematically harassed, being subjected to a series of prosecutions often initiated by the extremist self-styled Union of Lawyers. He and other defendants were victims of verbal and physical intimidation, even in court. He found this particularly stressful.A warm, sensitive man, who would greet an old friend with a bear hug, Dink experienced what he described as "psychological torture" as he tried to deal with the hatred targeted at him. "My computer's memory isloaded with sentences full of anger and threats," he wrote in his last column in Agos, published on January 10. "I am just like a pigeon, obsessively looking to my left and to my right, in front of me and behind me."The strain led to his crying during one television interview. But as he declared: "I will not be silent. As long as I live here I will go on telling the truth."Dink had critics even among the Armenian diaspora in Europe and north America as he failed to endorse their condemnation of Turkey's refusal to acknowledge that the massacres of Armenians in the closing years ofthe Ottoman Empire amounted to genocide. Though he did not underestimate the gravity of these events, he was appalled by the successful campaign by French-Armenians to get a law passed last year making it a crime inFrance to deny the Armenian genocide. He believed that this was contrary to freedom of expression.Dink's humane and liberal political stance won admirers among the more progressive elements in Turkish society, not least young people.He also became a focus for groups inside Turkey and abroad campaigning for freedom of expression. His case was raised by the European commission in the context of Turkey's aspiration to join the European Union and herecently encouraged the European court of human rights to intervene on his behalf. This further enraged the ultra-nationalists, who reject any external interference in Turkey's affairs and who oppose EU membership.Dink's murder provoked an angry statement from the Federation of French-Armenians, that "Turkey has killed Hrant Dink". But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also expressed official revulsion at the killing.He is survived by Rakel and their two children, a daughter, Sera, and a son, Arat, who is also a journalist.* Hrant (Firat) Dink, editor and journalist, born September 15 1954;died January 19 2007


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