Today's Zaman, Turkey
Jan 19 2008

Dink murder investigation stuck at square one on first anniversary

It has been exactly one year since Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant
Dink was fatally shot outside his office by an ultranationalist
teenager, but the investigation into his murder has been stalled
since the first few months after the assassination.

The anniversary of Dink's murder is being commemorated with a series
of ceremonies in Turkey and abroad. Dink's lawyers, domestic and
international rights organizations and activists on this day are
expressing their frustration that the murder investigation seems to
be stuck at square one and voicing their concern that there may be
attempts to protect the suspects. A lengthy list of suspicious
irregularities in the Dink murder investigation, including deleted
records and hidden files suggestive of a police cover-up attempt, has
marred the judicial process. Much of the evidence has indicated that
the murder could have been prevented.

On Thursday the Dink family filed a criminal complaint against
Ýstanbul Police Chief Celalettin Cerrah and the officers of the
Ýstanbul Police Department on charges of negligence.

The file accuses Cerrah and his police officers of having "abetted"
the perpetrators of the Dink murder and of being members of the gang
that plotted his assassination.

Calls for abolishing or at least amending Article 301 of the Turkish
Penal Code (TCK), which criminalizes "denigrating Turkishness," were
renewed as the anniversary of Dink's murder approached. Dink had been
sentenced to six months in prison under the controversial article. In
a statement released on Friday, the International Publishers
Association (IPA) announced they would be participating in the
memorial activities to "be there in solidarity with the writers and
publishers' community of Turkey, to find out more about the proposed
legislative changes, and to meet with writers and publishers who are
on trial or under threat." Bjørn Smith-Simonsen, the chairman of the
IPA's Freedom to Publish Committee, said in a statement indicating
that the IPA has been leading an international campaign for the
repeal of Article 301.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in a statement, "The authorities
must push ahead with the investigation in order to identify all
those, whoever they are, who were involved in this terrible crime."

The RSF also called for amending or repealing Article 301. "This is
the only way to ensure that Dink is the last victim of hatred in
Turkey," it said.

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy Zafer Üskül, who led
a parliamentary committee which confirmed the irregularities in the
Dink investigation, said Parliament's Human Rights Committee was
working to shed light on the details of the Dink murder. "Inspectors
are investigating the claims. Nobody should think they are serving
brotherhood in this country by protecting gangs, thugs and
terrorists," he said in a reference to apparent attempts to protect
the suspects in the Dink case.

According to Fethiye Çetin, who represents the Dink family in the
trial, the Turkish public at large stands firmly behind an amendment
of the infamous article. In an interview with Today's Zaman, Çetin
admitted that changing the article is not something that can be done
overnight. According to her, the AK Party government is willing to
change the article as needed since it is an important obstacle to
Turkey's accession talks with the EU. Çetin believes the government
needs to find a balance between the pro-status quo establishment and
the will of the people for change to protect its precarious position
in Turkey's vulnerable democracy. Although the establishment is
against changing 301, the government should not be discouraged and
must keep on trying to change it. "They have the public support to
change this article," Çetin said.

What went wrong with the investigation

At the end of a long year of police and judicial investigations into
the Dink murder, little has been achieved because much evidence
linking the suspects to the murder has disappeared, or rather has
been purposefully destroyed, according to Çetin. "We simply can't do
our work properly," she said.

Following Dink's murder, mounting evidence has indicated that the
police were tipped off about the assassination plot a couple of
times, months before the actual attack. Ýstanbul's police chief has
also acknowledged that there was a tip-off about a possible attack on
Dink, but said its urgency level was too low for his department to
take it seriously.

More dishearteningly, links between the police and suspects have been
revealed. For example, Erhan Tuncel, a key suspect in the murder, was
previously a police informant. Although Tuncel is suspected of having
incited Dink's murderer, he is also the one said to have tipped off
the Ýstanbul police. Important pieces of evidence, including Tuncel's
police records, were hidden from the court. In fact, Tuncel's file
with the police was destroyed, since it constitutes a "state secret"
according to officials.

The investigation has yielded more evidence linking the masterminds
of the murder plot to the police force in Ýstanbul, Trabzon, the
hometown of most of the suspects and the place where the
assassination was planned, and in Ankara, where the police had
intelligence about the murder.

Acts committed in the name of obscuring crucial evidence were not
limited to hiding or destroying files on suspects, Çetin says.
Footage from the security cameras of shops and banks located close to
the crime scene recorded during the time of the murder was also
mysteriously lost. Çetin believes if these recordings had not been
lost, they would have been invaluable in locating the contacts of the
hit man and his accomplice, if there was anybody else with him at the
time of the murder.

'Nationalism is an instrument of dark forces clinging to power'

According to Çetin, who formerly led a committee on minorities under
the Ýstanbul Bar Association, the blatant hiding or destroying of
evidence is deeply related to the unhealthy functioning of the
Turkish justice system. "Turkey is not a properly functioning state
of law," Çetin said. Like many here, she said she is certain that
dark and powerful behind-the-scenes forces within the state hold the
real power. "It is these powers that have authority over the justice
system," she explained. Çetin said since the founding of the Republic
of Turkey there has always been an alliance of some parts of the
military and civilian bureaucracy who deemed themselves the guardians
of the republic. According to Çetin, the fight has always been
between "those who want to change the system and those who want to
keep it as it is."

Çetin said current developments suggest that pro-status-quo forces
are starting to use nationalism as an instrument to foment public
opinion in a way that serves their interests. This new brand of
nationalism is increasingly taking root in society, she said. "At
this point these groups start to use nationalism as a tool to
mobilize the people. Suddenly there is a big civil movement of
nationalists coming to the surface, regarding itself as a guardian,
too," she added.

This new development she sees is reflected not only in the case of
Dink but also in the brutal murders of three Bible publishers in the
southeastern city of Malatya last April. The investigation into the
Malatya murders has also produced questions similar to those in the
Dink investigation, including evidence suggestive of a police
cover-up and dubious links between one of the suspects and the
Malatya chief of police.

"Indeed, there are huge similarities between these two cases," Çetin
confirmed. Those fanning nationalist sentiment in favor of the status
quo naturally need to invent an enemy, she said. "Christians are,
therefore, an easy target. They are few, they are non-Muslim and they
are simply different," she explained.