The “domestication” of Hrant Dink
It has been 16 years since the assassination of Hrant Dink. Much has been said on the event, and still more can be said. Even if everything regarding democracy and equal and free coexistence has turned on its head since the early 2000s, we can still easily talk of a “Hrant Dink effect” in these matters. Everyone, and especially those members of the demographic “majority,” who witnessed his discourse, his words, his writing, and his attitude experienced an irrevocable transformation and learned to see those demonized segments of society in a new light. Call it empathy, sympathy, or taking off their blinders… The increase in the number of people who have adopted this approach is undoubtedly a triumph for the aforementioned cause of equal and free coexistence in democracy. Hrant Dink achieved this. As I said, even if the atmosphere for democracy has soured, the seed that Dink planted in people’s hearts continues to flower. Of course, no effect lasts forever. It falls on those of us who remain to remember and remind people of Hrant Dink’s approach and ideas without presenting them as being irrefutable or immune to criticism.
In this regard, I want to draw attention to a phenomenon that has been observed for some time now: the “taming,” “cooptation,” or “absorption” of Dink by those upholding an official statist, monistic, Turkist ideology. In short, what I am trying to say is that Hrant Dink is being made into an apparatus of the official ideology by means of inaccurate claims, which are at best half-truths, such as “he would not have said ‘genocide’” or “he was against the diaspora” — as if he was not murdered for having shaken the foundations of that very ideology. In this way, they are trying to incapacitate Hrant Dink’s words as well as his symbolic power. This attitude is reminiscent of the mafia who sends the biggest wreath to the funeral of the man he killed. What must be done against this is again to remember ourselves and remind others of the content of Dink’s words. (An important resource for this is selections of Hrant Dink’s writing by the Hrant Dink Foundation Publications).
So, what was Hrant Dink’s perspective on these two subjects; that is, on the topic of genocide and diaspora? Of course, the question cannot be sufficiently addressed in the space of this writing, but we can at least respond to whether he would “not have called It a genocide” or whether he was “against the diaspora.”
If we are to start with genocide, those who throw around the allegation that “Hrant would not have said ‘genocide’” are trying to say that Hrant did not believe that what was done to the Armenians constituted a genocide. Yes, Hrant Dink did not say or write “genocide” universally due to contextual necessities, but the reason for this was not that he did not believe it was a genocide, as these people insist. On the contrary, Hrant Dink had no doubt that the catastrophe to which his ancestors were subjected was anything but a genocide, and he expressed this both explicitly and implicitly many times in his writing and his speech. In fact, he had been saying: Had Armenians been picked up in golden airplanes from their residences and then taken to a different location, this would still have been a genocide because this means cutting people off from the lands in which they have had their roots for thousands of years. As such, Dink’s stance on the matter of genocide is clear. Having ascertained this, what needs to be said secondly is as follows: Yes, he was of the opinion that the treatment of Armenians was a genocide, but because he believed vocalizing this would prevent the person across him from listening to him, he would refrain from beginning his speech with “genocide” and would not emphasize it each time he spoke. In other words, to be able to maintain dialogue, he searched for ways to describe genocide without using the word “genocide,” a task at which he was rather successful. This was also one of the most important reasons behind his assassination; by making people listen to him, he was able to convey and convince others that what was done to the Armenians was a grave injustice and a colossal act of persecution.
On the matter of the diaspora; it is out of the question for Hrant Dink to be opposed to the very communities he visited and talked to at every opportunity after obtaining his passport, and who constitute the Armenian diaspora, which means to embody an [incomprehensible] state of being, a state of thrownness. Just the opposite, he always emphasized that those people are “from here.” That being said, he did have serious criticisms, some of which I agreed with and some of which I did not, of the structures and institutions that enabled the formation of certain consensuses, tendencies, and behaviors in the diaspora, especially with regard to relations with Armenia. Dink contended that these diaspora institutions were obsessive and narrow minded. Indeed, the upsetting reality is that the events leading up to his assassination were sparked by the deliberate misrepresentation of an article of his in which he made such a criticism of the diaspora. In a bitter irony, what they took from his criticism of the diaspora was an “insult to Turkishness.” He had actually been saying to the diaspora, "Rid yourself of your obsession with the Turks, this obsession is poisoning you, instead focus on solidarity with Armenia," but they unanimously distorted his statements and made them the subject of a lynching campaign. (As I write this, the question “What would have happened if Twitter had been as effective a medium when Dink wrote that article as it is now?” came to my mind. Considering the conclusion of the events, it is not possible to say, “It could have been worse.” Who knows, perhaps the intentionally pushed misperception could have been amended there. At least, we could have been more involved. I do not know).
What happened in the end? The Turkish state and its society could not tolerate even the likes of Hrant Dink — who, for the sake of dialogue, was considerate of the sensitivities of the person across from him as much as possible, and who did not hesitate to criticize the Armenians and Armenian institutions if his sincere opinion required it — and thus they killed him. This is probably an indicator of the condition of that state and that society, if anything.
* This article was originally published in Turkish here.