Editor's Death Spotlights Turkish Nationalism

  • Share
  • Read Later
The murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink has put Turkish nationalism in the spotlight. The suspect, 17-year-old Ogun Samast, was quoted by newspapers as telling police he shot Dink because the journalist insulted the Turkish nation. Local papers are reporting that Samast was allegedly linked to a small ultranationalist group in his hometown, Trabzon, on the Black Sea Coast. "Those who created nationalist sentiment in Turkey have fed such a monster that there are many youngsters on the streets who do not find the ... state nationalist enough and are ready to take the law into their own hands," wrote Ismet Berkan in his daily column in Radikal, one of Turkey's main dailies.

Nationalism in Turkey has been fueled in recent years by the lukewarm reception of Turkey's bid for membership in the European Union. Many in Europe have voiced misgivings over embracing the populous, mostly Muslim (although officially secular) country. The accession process, which began with great optimism in 2004, has slowed significantly in recent months. With Europe appearing ever distant, ambitious politicians on all sides have stepped up their nationalist, ethnocentric rhetoric ahead of elections slated for November this year. The country's right-wing parties especially have gained strength. So much so that even traditional leftist organizations like the Republican People's Party are campaigning on a nationalist program. Its leader Deniz Baykal has spoken out against the European Union and legislation for religious minorities. He has even opposed lifting an anti-free speech law under which Dink and Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk were prosecuted.

The E.U. wants Turkey to abolish that law, Article 301, which is used by nationalist prosecutors and lawyers to charge writers and journalists with "insulting Turkishness." At Dink's funeral today, many in the procession carried posters that read "301 is the real killer." "His murder has started some soul-searching," says Hakan Altinay, director of the Open Society Institute in Turkey. "Turks need to look at themselves and ask how they could have bred the xenophobia and paranoia that would lead a kid to do this. Everyone has some degree of responsibility here."

> Dink, 52, a widely respected journalist and editor of Agos, a Turkish and Armenian newspaper, was gunned down in front of his office in central Istanbul on Friday. He had been branded a "traitor" by nationalists for his comments on the genodice of Armenians in the then Ottoman Empire during World War I.

But Dink's murder may yet serve as a wake-up call. Since Friday, tens of thousands of people have flocked to his newspaper offices to pay their respects, many chanting slogans like "We are all Armenians." On Tuesday, thousands filled the streets to pay homage to Dink, carrying the same signs. "Everybody here feels responsible," said Ayse Sivri, a 21-year-old student. "We all saw this coming, but nobody did anything to prevent it."