Ruben Melkonyan

Turcologist, Vice-dean of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Yerevan
University Hrant Dink, who gained fame due to his journalistic and
editorial activity engaged in since 1996, was definitely known to a
small part of Armenian and Turkish societies. Even the majority of
Turkologists had a shallow understanding of Dink and this was limited
to brief information on his active participation in left-wing movements
in Turkey. Note that on the initial phase the establishment of "Akos"
newspaper was of essential and serious significance mostly for the
Istanbul-Armenian community, later on expanding its geographical
impact. The existing "traditional" press means of Istanbul-Armenian
community had more community-like, so called limited targets, but
"Akos" and Hrant Dink initially acted beyond "narrow community"
newspaper limits and at last succeeded in it. Within a certain period
of time Dink became more famous due to his willingness to present
Armenian issues to the Turkish and Turkish speaking audience, as well
as due to the consecutive steps in this direction. As a result he
found himself in the maelstrom of the Armenian-Turkish relations. It
should be mentioned as well that Hrant Dink's name was not accepted
so definitely within Armenian scopes (that is to say in Armenia and
Dispora), since Dinkyan viewpoints on Armenian-Turkish relations,
dialogue, and mutual perception sometimes did not correspond to the
traditional viewpoints. However, at the beginning of the 2000s Dink's
viewpoints and actions regarding Armenian-Turkish relationships were
more and more broadly considered in sociopolitical discussions.

Indeed, the approaches offered by Dink resulted in double perceptions,
but it was mostly because these approaches were new and out of
traditional patterns. Moreover, such approaches were suggested by a
man who knew both Armenians and Turks almost equally. As a reader of
"Akos" and follower of the Dink's social activity I can say that both
the newspaper and Hrant lived certain evolution during those years,
which directly influenced both the direction of the newspaper and
Dink's more complete viewpoints. In particular, "Akos" obtained other
level - it became a platform for free discussion of Armenian-Turkish
relations, Armenian community and general Armenian topic. These
were the discussions that at last led to splitting of certain taboos
rooted in Turkey for decades. By facing Armenian reality more Dink,
in his turn, began definitely proofreading and sometimes reformulating
his viewpoints. Thus, Hrant Dink became a social diplomat in fact,
who knew Turkey and Turkish society very well and already managed
to get to know Armenia and Armenian society. That is why Hrant Dink
took a special role and place in the Armenian-Turkish relations and
became a social figure who best pictured the communication ways of
societies and had influence upon them.

Before Hrant Dink was assassinated, there were mainly three approaches
towards him in the Armenian society: 1. Interest towards his
approaches and sometimes approval thereof, 2. Rejection of approaches
and strict criticism towards Dink, 3. Indifference. Broader scopes of
Armenian society (of Armenia and Diaspora) began learning about Hrant
Dink since 2005, but Dink's assassination brought him all-Armenian
fame. Thereafter the "hero-making" process of Dink began in the
Armenian environment. It is distinctive that Dink was immediately
perceived as a new victim of the Armenian Genocide and the expression
1 500 000+1 as well as posters were not something accidental. The fact
that people visit the monument of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan
and put flowers on Malatia memorial wall, as he was from Malatia,
on the day of his death comes to proof that Dink was comprehended as
a new victim of the Armenian Genocide. Both Hrant Dink's funerals and
the actions thereafter had also a double perception in the Armenian
environment. The first was a superficial perception, according to
which there were thousands of Armenians in Turkey, who took part in a
protest march and openly announced that they were Armenians. This is
known to be a wrong opinion and Armenians did not make a majority among
the participants in the protest march at all. The second perception
that was much more spread in the professional scopes was that Dink
with his activity and death managed to split a serious taboo and
change the way of thinking in certain scopes of Turkish society.

It would be preferable, if this perception is preached more in the
Armenian environment and professionally shown that this is Dink's
activity phenomenon.

As a Turkish specialist I am much more interested in the developments
taking place in the Turkish society. I think that Dink's social
activity opened a way for two realities: firstly, the number of
persons, who were ready to listen and sometimes study and present
to the society the viewpoints which were significantly different
from the ones in the official thesis, was increasing and uniting
around Dink's personality. Secondly, Dink became a target of various
government agencies and a chauvinist society. The issue of the Armenian
Genocide is number one issue that goes under taboos and close topics
of the Turkish society. A method selected by Dink was to provide
the Turkish society with the information on the Armenian Genocide
slowly and sometimes indirectly and this method was justified and
began producing results. The issue of Armenians and their generations
that were forced to take Islam during those years has an important
place in the issue of the Genocide. Hrant Dink seriously took up
the issue of Islamized Armenians by providing space in his newspaper
for case studies and personal stories on that issue. All these are
also direct consequences of the Armenian Genocide, since the last
much broader islamization of the Armenians took place in 1915. The
issue of the Armenians that were forced to take Islam, in its turn,
is among the issues of ethnic identity in Turkey, "identity crisis"
and it may be stated that it tends to take serious volumes. It is
interesting and at the same time natural that the issue of ethnic
identity in Turkey is much more spread among Islamized Armenians
and their generations. The integral part of this issue is that the
generations of Islamized Armenians in Turkey began to look for their
roots and "Akos" became a platform for publishing such stories and
searching for people. On this point Hrant Ding said, "It is a spirit
of time. Today many people in Turkey are wandering in the labyrinth
of their identity". The article published in "Akos" by Hrant Dink and
Tiran Lokmagyozyan in 2006 shocked the Turkish society. The article
was based on the facts and said that the adopted daughter of Mustafa
Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey, called Sabiha Kyokchen, who
is the first female pilot of the country and one of the symbols of
Turkey, is Armenian indeed and her name is Khatun Sebiljyan. This
article, in the literal sense of the word, became the top issue of
the Turkish political and social agenda on those days and it would
be enough to mention that the general staff of armed forces in Turkey
made an announcement on this issue and qualified Ding's findings as a
threat to the national security of the country. Many think that Ding's
real persecutions started and became more severe after this article.

The process that started after Ding's death resulted in a number of
social changes in Turkey. Among them are the publications of books on
Armenian Genocide, activation of articles, discussions and increase
in number of newspapers touching upon the very topic. We may say that
today even small but a certain stratum has been formed in the Turkish
society that has a different viewpoint on the Armenian Genocide and
declines the state thesis. The fact that in today's Turkey there is a
certain number of scientists and analysts who are not only for various
scientific opinions, but also carry out consecutive works to study
and broadcast a number of taboo issues is very important for me as a
scientist. The articles of these scientists were and are published in
"Akos" newspaper and, in fact, the influence of Ding's activity here
cannot be denied.

Summing-up we can state that Hrant Dink both with its activity
and even death played a pivotal role in the development of mutual
awareness of Armenian and Turkish societies. Prior to Dink the stratum
in the Turkish society that gave way to different viewpoints about
the Armenian topic was more wordless and disorganized, and due to
"Akos" and activities launched by Dink, today we have a stratum in
the Turkish society that contributes to the formation and development
of the civil society in Turkey. The formation of such a stratum will
contribute to the Armenian-Turkish dialogue and will help the Turkish
society to face historical truths more quickly and correctly, which
is an important pledge for natural communication between Armenian
and Turkish societies.