member of the Armenian National Committee of America.
Dink was assassinated on Friday outside his office shortly after receiving death threats by Turkish nationalists for his writings about the Armenian genocide of 1915. We speak to Zanku Armenian of the Armenian National Committee of America. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Today is the funeral of the prominent Turkish newspaper editor Hrant Dink. He was shot dead outside his office last Friday. Dink had recently received death threats by Turkish nationalists for his writings about the Armenian genocide of 1915. Hrant Dink is a Turkish citizen of Armenian descent who was at the forefront of efforts challenging the official Turkish denial that the mass killings of Armenians by Turks during World War I was genocide.
Seven suspects have been arrested in connection with Dink’s murder, including a 17-year-old who has confessed to the crime. Police officials have said a well-known nationalist militant has admitted he provided a gun and money to the teen. Thousands of people are expected to take to the streets to follow Dink’s coffin. The only banner in the procession will read, "We are all Hrant Dink, We are all Armenian."
Dink was also a staunch defender of free speech. This is Hrant Dink last October speaking about a French law which makes it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide. We’ll play that in a moment, but first we’re going to go to Los Angeles to speak with Zanku Armenian. He is with the Armenian National Committee of America. Welcome to Democracy Now!
ZANKU ARMENIAN: Thank you for having me, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of Hrant Dink, who he was, what he stood for, how he died?
ZANKU ARMENIAN: Well, Hrant Dink was not only a leader in the Armenian context, but also in terms of Turkish society. He was one of those brave and courageous people who decided to stick his neck out and speak about the truth, the truth about the Armenian genocide, and in his attempt to educate Turkish citizenry about the Armenian genocide and start a dialogue, and for that, he paid with his life, unfortunately. And the significance is that he was prepared to put his life on the line. He had an opportunity to leave the country several times, but he said he wanted to stick with the country where he had decided to make a difference in society.
And the interesting thing here, Amy, is that, you know, there is a very large segment in Turkish society that clearly seems ready and willing to deal with its past, come to terms with it, analyze it, discuss it. However, the Turkish government, in its more aggressive and extremist point of view, with its continual denials, seems to be creating this environment where intolerance and hatred and these sorts of extremist acts are actually emboldened and encouraged.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play this clip that we have of Hrant Dink. And again, he is speaking last October about a French law which makes it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide.
HRANT DINK: [translated] We should not be a pawn for the irrational attitude between the two states. I am being sued in Turkey, because I said that there was genocide, which is my own belief. But I will go to France to protest against this madness and violate the new French law, if I see it necessary, and I will commit the crime to be prosecuted there.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Hrant Dink. Zanku Armenian, your response to what he had to say last October?
ZANKU ARMENIAN: Well, you know, Hrant Dink was a man who had his very independent thinking on these sorts of issues. You know, in France, there’s also a law on the books where you cannot deny the Holocaust. And the reason those laws are on the books and the reason the Armenian law is being proposed is because, you know, you do have extremist viewpoints that sometimes, you know, on these sorts of matters that are of great tragic periods in our history, you know, there are those elements that want to deny it.
However, Amy, he was also very passionate about freedom of speech, and there’s no denying the fact that that was kind of the point he was making for his own society, that he wanted to fight against Article 301 of Turkish criminal code, which makes it illegal for anyone to insult Turkishness, which, of course, can be very broadly defined. And the current Turkish government, you know, and successive Turkish governments had prosecuted Hrant Dink five times in the last five years, so it’s kind of the height of hypocrisy, when the current government comes out and expresses condolences and condemns the murder, when it was they who were prosecuting the guy for expressing freedom of thought, you know, expressing his free thoughts about the Armenian genocide and trying to start a dialogue between the Turkish people —
AMY GOODMAN: Zanku Armenian, for people who don’t understand, can you explain very briefly the Armenian genocide, what it was, what the Turkish government is denying?
ZANKU ARMENIAN: Yeah, the Armenian genocide occurred in 1915. One-point-five million Armenians who used to live in Turkey as Turkish citizens were driven from their homes. The men were summarily executed throughout the country. The population mostly lived in eastern Turkey with a very important pocket of the population also in current-day Istanbul. And the government at that time, under the guise of World War I, decided that this would be a good time to eliminate what they called the Armenian problem. And so, they drove the Armenian population south through the desert, and along the way, you know, shot, killed, raped men, women and children. And in terms of the communities they lived in in eastern Turkey, they burned down villages, their houses, churches. There are thousands of Armenian churches, centuries-old churches that still exist in eastern Turkey, that are used for target practice by the Turkish military today, because they want to get rid of all evidence of the former Armenian population. So, in today’s Turkey, there’s only about 30,000 or 40,000 Armenians left in a community in Istanbul, and Hrant Dink was one of the leaders of that community.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you heard about what happened today? Reuters is reporting some 50,000 people marched in the funeral of Hrant Dink.
ZANKU ARMENIAN: Yes, I have heard of it. I heard the news. And, you know, Amy, that is really the example of what I mentioned earlier, where there is a very important part of the Turkish population that is ready and willing to deal with the issue of the Armenian genocide, their own history. But it is the Turkish government who has created this environment of fear and intimidation, where people are afraid to discuss openly their own history. Their own school —
AMY GOODMAN: And the U.S. — since you’re talking to a world audience, but also a U.S. audience — the U.S. government, what about its relationship with Turkey?
ZANKU ARMENIAN: The U.S. government is complicit in this issue, as well, unfortunately, Amy. I’m very ashamed, as an American citizen, to say that, because the State Department helps Turkey and emboldens Turkey in their very aggressive Armenian genocide denial campaign. They are part and parcel of that denial campaign. For example, they did not raise the issue with Hrant Dink, you know, several times — raise the issue of threats against him and his persecution and prosecution under the law. The State Department never did anything about it. On the Armenian genocide resolution, which has been introduced in successive Congresses and is about to be introduced again in this Congress, you know, the State Department is getting ready to mount very aggressive opposition with the government of Turkey against our own government here in the United States from acknowledging the facts of the Armenian genocide.
AMY GOODMAN: Zanku Armenian, we’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you for being with us, with the Armenian National Committee of America.