Imagine an exquisite dinner scene in Istanbul. A long, long table, at least thirty people. It is kind of breezy outside, the infamous lodos is blowing incessantly, as if to remind you that life in this city is far from quiet and orderly. Inside the room, the variety of the food served reflects the multicultural roots of today's Turkish cuisine: Albanian meatballs, Greek seafood, Kurdish spices, Armenian pastries, Turkish pilaf. People drink and eat and laugh and from time to time, they toast friends long departed.
Elif Shafak is a novelist and essayist, and currently professor in the department of near-eastern studies at the University of Arizona. She was born in France in 1971 and spent her childhood in Spain. After studying political science in Turkey, she held teaching positions in the United Kingdom, Turkey, and the United States. Her website is here.
Then somebody starts to sing a song. Other guests join in, and before you know, a string of songs follow, most of them sad but none disheartening. The songs switch almost effortlessly from Armenian to Kurdish, from Turkish to Greek. Where one stops another one picks up. Imagine, in short, a cosmopolitan setting where everyone is welcome no matter what their ethnicity, race or religion. Imagine a country where we are all equal, friendly and free.
It wasn't a dream. I saw it happen, and not once or twice. I saw it happen so many times. That is how I know it can and shall be real. I saw it happen thanks to Hrant Dink, the Armenian journalist who was, on Friday 19 January 2007, gunned down in Istanbul by a Turkish ultra-nationalist.
Hrant was a dreamer, and as relentlessly as he was misunderstood, mistreated, and downtrodden because of this dominant aspect of his personality, by the end he knew very well that dreams are contagious. He gave us hope and faith, but most of all, he passed on his dreams to us. He made us believe that we the citizens of modern Turkey, as the grandchildren of the multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual Ottoman empire, could and should live together without assimilating differences or erasing the memory of the past.
He wanted to shatter the silence in Turkey on the 1915 deportation and massacres of Armenians, believing that remembrance was a responsibility. According to him, only if and when Turks and Armenians mourned this tragedy together, would we be able to start a new and better future. In a country stamped with collective amnesia, Hrant struggled for memory.
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)
Fatma Müge Göçek, "Hrant Dink (1954-2007): in memoriam"
(22 January 2007)
Gunes Murat Tezcur, "Hrant Dink: the murder of freedom"
(23 February 2007)
Vicken Cheterian, "The pigeon sacrificed: Hrant Dink, and a broken dialogue"
(23 January 2006)
As an Armenian Istanbullu he had been subject to all sorts of discrimination ever since he was a kid. And yet he was free of anger and resentment. After a lifetime's experience he could have drawn the conclusion that this country was no place for a minority and go abroad where he would most probably be safer and much more comfortable. But he did just the opposite. He had uttermost faith in his fellow citizens, and believed that through dialogue and empathy even the most ossified chauvinisms would melt away.
Hrant wholeheartedly supported Turkey's membership of the European Union and was worried that if the ties between Turkey and EU snap, the ongoing democratisation process would slow down and Turkey would become a more insular country - a process from which neither Turkey nor the western world could benefit.
The sweeping generalisations in the west regarding Turkey and Turks frustrated him. He was equally critical of the Armenian genocide bill approved in October 2006 by the French parliament, an equivalent of which is now being discussed in the United States. "If they pass the law in France, I will go there, and though I believe the opposite, I will openly say that there was no genocide." As a true supporter of freedom of expression, Hrant believed that it should be up to people - Turks and Armenians together - to develop the means to reconcile, and not for politicians to dictate knowledge of history.
More than 100,000 people marched on 23 January, the day of his funeral. Many in the crowd sang Armenian songs, and carried banners proclaiming: Hepimiz Hrant Dink'iz, Hepimiz Ermeniyiz ("We are all Hrant Dink, we are all Armenians." People of all sorts of ideological, religious and ethnic backgrounds were there united in a common spirit and faith in democracy. At the end of the day, Muslims and Christians buried him together.
Imagine a moment in time when there is no chauvinism, xenophobia or racism. A moment when we are all united in a common spirit. It wasn't a dream. We thousands of Istanbullular saw it happen. So did Hrant. And most probably he wasn't the least bit surprised, knowing too well that dreams are contagious.
I was chosen to be the spouse of my chutak. I am here today full of immense grief and dignity. My children, my family, you and I are in mourning. This silent love bestows upon us some fortitude. It enables us to experience within us a sorrowful calm.
In the Bible, the gospel of John 15:13, it is stated that there is no greater love than for a person to give up his life for the sake of his friends.
Hrant Dink has 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 Turkey and Armenia
On 19 January 2007, Hrant Dink was assassinated outside Agos's offices in Istanbul
openDemocracy published three articles by Hrant Dink:
"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 2006)
My dear friends, today we send off half of my soul, my beloved, the father of my children and your brother. We are going to conduct a march without any slogans and without showing any disrespect to those around us. Today we are going to generate immense sound through our silence.
Today begins the moment when the darkness of the valleys rises towards brightness.
Whoever the assassin may be, whether he was 17 or 27 years old, I know that he was once a baby. My brothers and sisters, one cannot accomplish anything without first questioning the darkness that creates an assassin from such a baby...
My brothers and sisters,
It was Hrant's love for honesty, for transparency, for his friends that brought him here. His love that challenged fear made him great. They say: "He was a great man." I ask you: "Was he born great?" No! He too was born just like us. He did not come from the heavens; he too was created from earth. But what made him great was his living spirit; his deeds, his style, and the love in his eyes and his heart. It was what he did, the style he chose, the love in his heart that made him great.
A person does not become great naturally; it is through his deeds that he becomes great... Yes, he became great because he thought great things and pronounced great words. You too all thought great things by coming here. You talked greatly through your silence; you too are great.
But do not let this suffice; do not be content with this alone.
Hrant marked the birth of a new era in Turkey and you have all been his seal. With him changed the headlines, dialogues, and bans. For him, there were no taboos or forbidden topics. As it is stated in the scriptures, it all sprang from his heart. He paid a great price. Futures for which great prices are paid can only be accomplished through such love and belief; not with hatred, insults, by holding one blood superior to another. This rise is only possible if one sees and respects the other as oneself, if one assumes oneself to be the other.
They separated him from the heaven of his home he had created with the help of Jesus. They made him spread his wings to the eternal celestial heavens - before his eyes tired out, before his body had the chance to age, before he could become sick, before he could spend enough time with his loved ones.
We too shall come, my beloved. We too shall come to that matchless heaven. Love and love alone enters there. Love and love alone that is superior to the speech of humans and angels, to prophecy, to mastery of all the mysteries, to faith that moves mountains, to sharing all one possesses, even to giving up one's body up to flames.
Only that love will enter heaven. There we shall live together forever in true love. A love that is not jealous of anyone, a love that does not covet the property of anyone else, a love that does not murder anyone, a love that does not belittle anyone, a love that holds one's brother and sister more dear than oneself, a love that abandons one's own allocation, a love that demands the rights of one's brother and sister. A love that is found in the Messiah. And a love that has been poured into us.
Who could forget what you have done, what you have said, my beloved? Which darkness could erase them? Could fear? Could life? Could injustice? Could the temptations of the world? Or could death have them forgotten, my beloved? No, no darkness is capable of having them forgotten, my beloved.
I too wrote you a love letter, my beloved. Its cost was dear to me too, my beloved. I owe it to Jesus that I was capable of penning this, my beloved. Let us give his due to Him, my beloved. Let us give back everyone their due, my beloved.
You departed from those you loved; you departed from your children, your grandchildren. You departed from those here who came to send you off. You departed from my embrace. You did not depart from your country, my beloved.
This eulogy was delivered by Rakel Dink in front of the huge crowd gathered around Hrant Dink's coffin on 23 January 2007, in Osmanbey, Istanbul. It was translated by Fatma Müge Göçek.