As I sit in front of my computer and type this first eulogy of my life with tears streaming down my face, I realise that what I will miss the most of my dear friend Hrant Dink's unexpected departure from this life are the big hugs he used to give: to me, to us, to all his friends, to humanity as a whole, those warm, comforting, loving hugs...
I mourn that I will no longer feel that happiness surge within me to see his face light up upon our next encounter; that he will never again say "Dear Müge!" and rush towards me with his arms open wide to give me one of his wonderful hugs. Instead, the last image of him in my mind's eye will be his tall, lifeless body lying covered on a pavement, mercilessly assassinated by a gunman in broad daylight in front of the offices of his newspaper Agos in Istanbul on Friday 19 January 2007.
I got to know Hrant closely in 2002 when he came to Ann Arbor, Michigan to attend the annual meeting of the Turkish-Armenian workshop of scholars that my colleagues Ronald Grigor Suny, Gerard Libaridian and I held at the University of Michigan.
Hrant Dink worked since 1996 as a columnist and editor-in-chief of the Armenian-language weekly newspaper Agos in Istanbul. The paper aims to provide a voice for the Armenian community in Turkey and to further dialogue between Turks and Armenians.
On 19 January 2007, Hrant Dink was assassinated outside Agos's offices in Istanbul.
Hrant Dink writes in openDemocracy:
"The water finds its crack: an Armenian in Turkey"
(13 December 2005)
"Orhan Pamuk's epic journey"
(16 October 2006)
"My life as a pigeon"
(22 January 2007)
After the inaugural meeting at the University of Chicago in 2000, we had decided to invite journalists as observers and he, as the columnist and editor-in-chief of the Turkish-Armenian Agos newspaper, was among the invitees. Hrant was just as surprised as we were when he was issued a passport by the Turkish state to attend the workshop, as he had been refused one for the last twenty years.
At the workshop, he stunned all the participants by making several original contributions, specifically by his articulate presentation of the standpoint of an Armenian in Turkey, by his criticism of nationalist diaspora politics, and by his peaceful vision in relation to the future of Turkish-Armenian relations.
During our first meeting, I was personally struck by one thing in particular about Hrant Dink. At the time, I had been working intensely on the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians in 1915, and even the mere act of reading about the historical events had made me very angry and hurt, both as a human being and as an ethnic Turk.
I had also been born and raised in Turkey for twenty-four years before my arrival in the United States and therefore knew and was likewise very upset as a Turkish citizen about the prejudice and discrimination the minorities still faced in Turkey due to rabid Turkish nationalism.
When I could not overcome my anger, when the diaspora Armenians I met in the United States likewise struggled so much (sometimes successfully and at other times unsuccessfully) with their anger and hurt, how could Hrant Dink have achieved, how had he managed to overcome that ever-consuming, destructive, dangerous anger - and to fill himself instead with so much love and hope for humanity, for Turkish society, for Turkish-Armenian reconciliation? How could he do so in spite of the memory of 1915 and of the subsequent prejudice and discrimination he faced in Turkey?
It was for me that particular quality which made Hrant Dink a great human being and a great role model. That, and everything that flowed from it: his unwavering belief in the fundamental goodness of all humans regardless of their race, ethnic origin, regardless of what they had personally or communally experienced; his unwavering vision that we in Turkey were going to one day be able to finally confront our past and come to terms with our faults, mistakes and violence as well as our so brandied about virtues; his unwavering trust that we all would manage to live together in peace one day.
Also in openDemocracy on Hrant Dink and Turkey:
Üstün Bilgen-Reinart, "Hrant Dink: forging an Armenian identity in Turkey"
(7 February 2006)
Anthony Barnett, Isabel Hilton, "Hrant Dink: an openDemocracy tribute" (19 January 2007)
A voice of humanity
Hrant was very excited about our scholarly activities and became our fervent supporter from then on. "You scholars are the ones who are going to ultimately solve this issue!" he kept saying over and over again.
In spring 2006, when he was visiting the United States, I suddenly got a phone call from him to find out that he was on his way to Ann Arbor to especially meet with me: "Keep the dialogue between the Armenian and Turkish scholars going, that is the most significant endeavour we have for the solution of this problem and no matter what happens, do not let things get politicised", he told me during our long meeting over coffee.
He was aware, like many of us in the United States, Europe, Turkey and all over the world who belong to our Turkish-Armenian network, that the solution to this problem lies in cooperation, in dialogue, and in reconciliation. He was aware that we need to tackle this issue as a community of scholars who, like him, believe in the ultimate goodness of humanity, and who, like him, fervently hope and strive on a daily basis to move that dialogue, the possibility of that reconciliation forward.
Following his example, we shall attempt to overcome the deep anger we feel over his assassination, attempt to move beyond the narrow confines of our ethnic, national identities to reach for our common element of humanity so that our children, so that Hrant's children and beautiful grandchildren live in a world, in societies filled with love rather than hatred.
My dear friend Hrant, I promise you that I will continue, with the help of the community of friends and scholars that we altogether built around us, to keep reaching out with the same love, warmth and hope that you hugged all of us, and I will try to deliver the same message. And while your rest in peace in the soil of your ancestors you so loved and cherished to death, you will be there alongside us in spirit.