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Ankara: Armenian Slain Private Not Granted 'Martyrdom' Status

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  • Ankara: Armenian Slain Private Not Granted 'Martyrdom' Status


    Today's Zaman, Turkey
    March 28 2013

    The family of an Armenian man who was killed by a fellow private
    during his army service in 2011 on April 24 -- the anniversary of
    the day marked as the start of what Armenians say was a genocide of
    their people in 1915 -- claim their son is being denied "martyrdom,"
    a legal status that provides benefits to families of soldiers killed
    while serving in the military.

    However, to the family, there is more to this than benefits. The
    family, which has vowed to take the case of Pvt. Sevag Şahin Balıkcı,
    whose death was found to be the result of an accident by a Turkish
    court on Wednesday, is certain that the young man fell victim to a
    hate crime.

    The concept of martyrdom in religious understanding corresponds to
    falling when fighting for spreading a just cause, but in the Turkish
    experience it has gained a more secular meaning, usually attributed
    to individuals who are killed while protecting their country, or
    during military service. It also has legal consequences in terms of
    family assistance.

    The young man's father, Garabet Balıkcı, said: "They do not consider
    him a martyr because he was Christian. Why, then, did they draft
    him in the first place?" Military service is compulsory in Turkey
    for males and the country does not allow conscientious objectors the
    right not to serve in the military.

    Balıkcı's shooter, Kıvanc Ağaoğlu, was found guilty of involuntary
    manslaughter and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. Ani
    Balıkcı, Sevag's mother, said the family was not satisfied with
    the ruling during a press conference the family held at the Cezayir
    Restaurant in İstanbul's Taksim neighborhood on Wednesday.

    In addition to Sevag's family, the family's lawyer İsmail Halavurt
    as well as Melis Tantan and Gencay Gursoy, two members of the Nor
    Zartonk Initiative -- a civil society group representing Turkey's
    Armenian community set up to fight hate crimes and discrimination --
    also attended the event.

    Ani Balıkcı, speaking about her son's murder, said, "His name is Sevag
    and he is an Armenian, there is nothing else to think," saying she
    was certain it was a hate crime. "First they look at our ethnicity and
    we are treated as foreigners, as others. Then we are dehumanized. And
    if they find the opportunity, we are killed," the heart-broken mother
    said about being a member of a non-Muslim minority in Turkey.

    Garabet Balıkcı said his son was killed "knowingly" and by a "racist

    The Diyarbakır Military Court heard the trial concerning the Balıkcı
    shooting. There were 12 hearings in the trial and the verdict was
    delivered on Wednesday. The defendant was given four-and-a-half years
    and if the Military Court of Appeals affirms the ruling, he will serve
    for one year and nine months and then will be released on parole,
    according to the Code on Criminal Procedure (CMK).

    Critics believe that the panel of judges -- whose members were changed
    frequently during the course of the trial with the exception of the
    presiding judge -- covered up what happened on the day of Balıkcı's
    murder. Several witnesses have changed their testimony in favor of
    the defendant and lawyers representing the plaintiffs have claimed
    that military commanders have forced them to change their initial
    statements through intimidation. The judges also rejected a demand
    from plaintiff lawyers to "expand the investigation."

    The Nor Zartonk community released a statement and suggested that the
    defendant's sentence was only given to create the impression that
    some sort of punishment was given. It also said that the trial set
    a bad precedent for other "barracks murders." It noted that most of
    the privates killed in the military service are either Kurds, Alevis
    or Armenians and often officially found to be killed "by accident"
    or as a result of "suicide." It called for introducing a hate crime
    law in Turkey.

    From: Baghdasarian