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News Diplomacy

Mourners reconcile at Dink funeral
Up to 100,000 people walked through İstanbul yesterday to bid farewell to slain journalist Hrant Dink in a funeral where appeal for reconciliation competed with grief over the loss of a respected member of Turkey's Armenian community.

Turkish and Armenian officials joined mourners who filled streets of İstanbul on an eight-kilometer route. "It is mystical that his funeral turned into an occasion where Armenian and Turkish officials gathered together. He would have been happy to see this turn into real dialogue," Patriarch Mesrob II, the spiritual leader of Turkey's Armenian community, told mourners at a private church service.
Dink was widely acclaimed as a voice of reconciliation between Turks and Armenians, but he was loathed by radicals on both sides. He seemed, though, to have achieved that to a certain extent in his death: Turkey has no diplomatic ties with Armenia but still invited Armenian officials and religious leaders as well as moderate members of the diaspora to the funeral. Armenia sent Deputy Foreign Minister Arman Kirakosian. The Armenian Orthodox Church sent US-based Bishop Khazkah Parsamian. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, primate of the Eastern diocese of the Armenian Church of America, and a delegation from the Coordination Council of Armenian Organizations in France were also in attendance.
Absent from the funeral were Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who were hosting the visiting Italian prime minister and Polish president, respectively. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin and Interior Minister Abdülkadir Aksu represented the Turkish government in the ceremony.
Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize the independence of Armenia from the former Soviet Union, but it refuses to have diplomatic ties with the landlocked country and keeps its border gate closed in protest of Armenia's occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, and its support for Armenian diaspora efforts to win international recognition for an alleged genocide of Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.

In yesterday's funeral, mourners carried identical black-and-white signs reading "We are all Hrant Dink" and "We are all Armenians" as they walked from Agos headquarters to an Armenian cemetery in Yenikapı in one of the biggest funerals ever held in İstanbul.
White doves, which Dink had likened himself to in his last column before his death, were released into the air as somber music played. Much of downtown Istanbul was closed to traffic.
Dink wrote in his last column that he was like a pigeon, living with anxiety and fear among the human crowds, but concluded that he was still free as "people don't touch pigeons" in this country.
Dink drew hatred from ultranationalists, who viewed him as traitor because he called the killing of Armenians in Ottoman Anatolia during the World War I years "genocide." He was an unpopular figure among Armenian radicals as well since he called for reconciliation with Turks.
"Hrant Dink was a great advocate in the country for freedom of speech and for reconciliation, in particular between Armenians and Turks," said Ross Wilson, the US ambassador to Turkey, on the sidelines of the funeral procession.
"He was one of the many advocates here for a more liberal Turkey," Wilson said. "All of them are making a statement about the kind of country they want Turkey to be. Judging by what you see on the streets, he did bring the people together."
Seventeen-year-old Ogün Samast, an unemployed secondary school graduate, confessed to killing Dink because he had said "Turkish blood is dirty."
Police are questioning seven suspects, including Samast and Yasin Hayal, a nationalist militant convicted in a 2004 bomb attack at a McDonald's restaurant. Hayal has confessed to inciting the slaying and providing a gun and money to the teenager, according to police.
The suspects also include a university student who allegedly "inspired" the attack, daily Hürriyet reported Tuesday. Police confirmed the report but gave no details. A firm motive has yet to be established, but many believe Dink was killed for expressing his views.
In an emotional speech to the crowd in front of the Agos office, Rakel Dink called for a deeper search for answers to the killing. "Seventeen or 27, whoever he was, the murderer was once a baby," said Rakel Dink in her emotional speech. "Unless we can question how this baby grew into a murderer, we cannot achieve anything."
Remembering her husband, she said, "You have left ... your loved ones, but you have not left your country."
"Nothing was taboo or untouchable for him," Rakel Dink also said. Dink was killed because of "his love of truth, transparency and friendship," she said, adding that "Neither darkness, nor fear nor death will make us forget.

301 protests
Dink had requested a silent funeral in his will, but some mourners shouted: "Shoulder to shoulder against fascism" as and "Murderer 301" -- a reference to the law under which Dink had been sentenced to a six-month suspended imprisonment for "insulting Turkishness."
Among the intellectuals dragged to court over Article 301 was novelist Orhan Pamuk, who last year won the Nobel Prize in literature. Such prosecutions have alarmed the European Union, which Turkey aspires to join.
The government has signaled readiness to reconsider the controversial article, which the EU says restricts freedom of expression, but so far there has been no concrete step in that direction. Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek was non-committal yesterday as he advised "talk[ing] about this later" when he was asked by journalists about prospects for abolishment of the infamous article.
Thousands of policemen were on duty for the ceremony and sharp-shooters could be seen positioned on the rooftops of nearby buildings as the authorities cancelled all police leave and called in reinforcements from nearby cities.

24.01.2007

İstanbul Today’s Zaman  
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