A pigeon-like unease of spirit

Hrant Dink
22 January 2007

I did not at first feel troubled about the investigation that was filed against me by the Şişli public prosecutor's office with the accusation of "insulting Turkishness". After all, it was not the first time to face this charge. I had been familiar with the accusation because of a similar lawsuit filed against me in Urfa. Over the last three years, I was being tried in Urfa for "denigrating Turkishness" on the grounds of having stated in a talk I gave at a conference there in 2002 that "I was not a Turk ... but from Turkey and an Armenian."

I was unaware about how this lawsuit was proceeding. I was not at all interested. My lawyer friends in Urfa were attending the hearings in my absence.

I was even quite nonchalant when I went and gave my deposition to the Şişli public prosecutor. I ultimately had complete trust in what my intentions had been and what I had written. Once the prosecutor had the chance to evaluate not just that single sentence from my editorial - which made no sense by itself - but the text as a whole, he would understand easily that I had no intention of "denigrating Turkishness"; and this comedy would come to an end.

I was certain that a lawsuit would not be filed at the end of the investigation. I was sure of myself. But, surprise! A lawsuit was filed.

But I still did not lose my optimism.

So much so that on a television show that I joined live, I even told the lawyer (Kemal) Kerincsiz who was accusing me "that he should not get his hopes too high, that I was not going to be smacked with any sentence from this lawsuit, and that I would leave this country if I received a sentence." I was sure of myself because I truly had not had in my article any premeditation or intention - not even a single iota - to denigrate Turkishness. Those who read the entirety of my collection of articles would understand this very clearly.

Hrant Dink was from 1996 the editor-in-chief and a columnist 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.

Also by Hrant Dink in openDemocracy:

"The water finds its crack: an Armenian in Turkey"
(13 December 2005)

"Orhan Pamuk’s epic journey"
(16 October 2006)

As a matter of fact, the report prepared by the three faculty members from Istanbul University who had been appointed by the court as experts stated exactly that. There was no reason for me to be worried; there would certainly be a return from the wrongful path (of the lawsuit) at one stage of the proceedings or the other. So I kept asking for patience ...

But there was no such return.

The weapon of sincerity

The prosecutor asked for a sentence in spite of the expert report. The judge then sentenced me to six months in prison.

When I first heard about my sentence, I found myself under the bitter pressure of the hopes I had nurtured all along the process of the lawsuit. I was bewildered ... My disappointment and rebellion were at their pinnacle.

I had resisted for days and months saying: "just you wait for this decision to come out and once I am acquitted, then you will all be so repentant about all that you have said and written."

In covering every hearing of the lawsuit, the newspaper items, editorials and television programmes all attributed to me a remark that "the blood of the Turk is poisonous." Each and every time, they were adding to my fame as "the enemy of the Turk." At the halls of the court, the fascists physically attacked me with racist curses. They bombarded me with insults on their placards.

The threats reached hundreds, hailing for months through phones, email and letters which kept increasing day after day. I persevered through all this with patience awaiting the decision for acquittal. Once the legal decision was announced, the truth was going to prevail and all these people would be ashamed of what they had done.

My only weapon was my sincerity. But the decision was made and all my hopes were crushed. From then on, I was in the most distressed situation that a person could possibly be in.

The judge had made a decision in the name of the "Turkish nation" and had it legally registered that I had "denigrated Turkishness." I could have persevered through anything except this.

According to my understanding, racism was the denigration by anyone of a person they lived alongside with on the basis of any difference, ethnic or religious, and there was no way in which this could ever be forgiven.

It was in this psychological state that I made the following declaration to the members of the media and friends who were at my doorstep trying to confirm "as to whether I would leave this country as I had indicated earlier".

"I shall consult with my lawyers. I will appeal at the supreme court of appeal and will even go to the European Court of Human Rights if necessary. If I am not cleared through any one of these processes, then I shall leave my country. Because, in my opinion, someone who has been sentenced for such a crime does not have the right to live alongside the citizens he has denigrated."

As I voiced this opinion, I was emotional as always. My only weapon was my sincerity.

A dark humour

But it so happens that the deep force that was trying to single me out and make me an open target in the eyes of the people of Turkey found something wrong with this press release of mine as well; this time, it filed a lawsuit against me for attempting to influence the court. The entire Turkish media had been given my declaration, but what got their attention was what was written in Agos alone. And it so transpired that the legally responsible parties in the Agos newspaper and I began to be tried this time around for attempting to influence the court. This must be what people call "dark humour".

Who, more than the accused, has the right to try to influence the judiciary? But in this humorous situation, the accused is tried for just such an offence.

"In the name of the Turkish state"

I have to confess that I had more than lost my trust in the concept of "law" and the "system of justice" in Turkey.

How could I have not? Had these prosecutors, these judges not been educated in the university, graduated from faculties of law? Weren't they supposed to have the capacity to comprehend (and interpret) what they read?

But it so transpires that the judiciary in this country, as expressed without compunction by many a statesman and politician also, is not independent.

The judiciary does not protect the rights of the citizen, but instead of the state. The judiciary is not there for the citizen, but under the control of the state.

As a matter of fact I was absolutely sure that even though it was stated that the decision in my case was reached "in the name of the Turkish nation", it was a decision clearly not made "on behalf of the Turkish nation" but rather "on behalf of the Turkish state." As a consequence, my lawyers were going to appeal to the supreme court of appeals; but what could guarantee that the deep force that had decided to put me in my place would not be influential there either?

And was it the case that the supreme court of appeals always reached right decisions?

Wasn't it the same supreme court of appeal that had signed onto the unjust decision that stripped minority foundations of their properties? It had done so, moreover, in spite of the attempts of the chief public prosecutor.

We did appeal and what did it get us?

Just like the report of the experts, the chief public prosecutor of the supreme court of appeals stated that there was no evidence of crime and asked for my acquittal; but the supreme court of appeals still found me guilty.

The chief public prosecutor of the supreme court of appeals was just as certain about what he had read and understood as I had been about what I had written, so he objected to the decision and took the lawsuit to the general council.

But what can I say: that great force which had decided once and for all to put me in my place and had made itself felt at every stage of my lawsuit through processes I would not even know about, was there present once again behind the scenes. And as a consequence, it was declared by majority vote at general council as well that I had denigrated Turkishness.

A pigeon reflex

This much is crystal-clear: that those who tried to single me out, render me weak and defenceless, succeeded by their own measures. They managed, with the wrongful and polluted knowledge they injected into society, to form a significant segment of the population who came to view Hrant Dink as someone "denigrating Turkishness".

The diary and memory of my computer are filled with angry, threatening lines sent by citizens from this particular sector, whose numbers cannot easily be dismissed. (Let me note here that one of these threatening letters was sent from the neighbouring city of Bursa, which I found particularly disturbing because of the proximity of the danger it represented; I therefore handed it to the Şişli prosecutor's office, but have not been able to get a response to this day.)

How real or unreal are these threats? To be honest, it is of course impossible for me to know for sure.

What is truly threatening and unbearable for me is the psychological torture I personally place myself in. "Now what are these people thinking about me?" is the question that really bugs me.

It is unfortunate that I am now better known than I once was and I feel much more the people who throw me that glance which says, "Oh, look, isn't he that Armenian guy?" And I reflexively start torturing myself.

One aspect of this torture is curiosity, the other unease. One aspect is attention, the other apprehension. I am just like a pigeon ... Obsessed just as much by what goes on my left, right, front, back. My head is just as mobile ... and fast enough to turn right away.

And here is the cost for you

What did the foreign minister Abdullah Gül state? The justice minister Cemil Çiçek?

"Come on, there is nothing to exaggerate about (Article 301 of the penal code). Is there anyone who has actually been tried and imprisoned from it?"

As if the only cost one paid was imprisonment ...

Here is a cost for you ... Here is a cost ...

Do you know, oh ministers, what kind of a cost it is to imprison a human being into the apprehensiveness of a pigeon?... Do you know?...

You, don't you ever watch a pigeon?

What they call "life-or-death"

What I have lived through has not been an easy process ... And what we have lived through as a family ...

There were moments when I seriously thought about leaving the country and moving far away. And especially when the threats started to involve those close to me ... At that point I always remained helpless.

That must be what they call "life-or-death." I could have resisted out of my own will, but I did not have the right to put into danger the life of anyone who was close to me. I could have been my own hero, but I did not have the right to be brave by placing, let alone someone close to me, any other person in danger.

During such helpless times, I gathered my family, my children together and sought refuge in them and received the greatest support from them. They trusted in me. Wherever I would be, they would be there as well.

If I said "let's go" they would go, if I said "let's stay" they would stay.

To stay and resist

Okay, but if we went, where would we go?

To the Armenian republic?

How long someone like me who could not stand injustices would put up with the injustices there? Would I not get into even deeper trouble there?

To go and live in the European countries was not at all the thing for me.

After all, I am the kind of person who, if I travel to the west for three days, I miss my country on the fourth and start writhing in boredom saying "let this be over so I can go back". So what would I end up doing there?

The comfort there would have gotten to me! Leaving "boiling hells" for "ready-made heavens" was not at all right for my personality make-up.

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)

We were people who volunteered to transform the hells they lived into heavens.
To stay and live in Turkey was necessary because we truly desired it, and we had to do so out of respect for the thousands of friends in Turkey who pursued a struggle for democracy and who supported us.
We were going to stay and we were going to resist.
If, however, we were forced to leave one day ... we were going to set out just as in 1915 ... Like our ancestors ... Without knowing where we were going ... Walking the roads they walked through ... Feeling the ordeal, experiencing the pain ...

With such a reproach we were going to leave our homeland. And we would go where our feet took us, but not our hearts.

Apprehensive - and free

I wish that we would never ever have to experience such a departure. We have way too many reasons and hope not to experience it anyhow.

Now I am applying to the European Court of Human Rights.

How long this lawsuit will last, I do not know.

What I do know, and what puts me a little at ease, is that I will be living in Turkey at least until the lawsuit is finalised.

If the court decides in my favour, I will undoubtedly become very happy and it would mean that I would never have to leave my country.

From my own vantage-point, 2007 will probably be even a more difficult year.

The trials will continue, new ones will commence. Who knows what kinds of additional injustices I will have to confront?

While all these occur, I will consider this one truth my only security.

Yes, I may perceive myself in the spiritual unease of a pigeon, but I do know that in this country people do not harm pigeons.

Pigeons live their lives all the way deep into the city, even amidst human throngs. Yes, somewhat apprehensive, but just as free.

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