Fight injustice whatever the cost
Why, when everyone else accused under Article 301 [a controversial article of Turkey’s penal code, introduced in June 2005, that makes it a crime to insult ‘Turkishness’ or Turkey] of our penal code benefited from a legal loophole, was Hrant Dink the only one to be found guilty? I’m not the only one to be […]
20 Jan 07

Why, when everyone else accused under Article 301 [a controversial article of Turkey’s penal code, introduced in June 2005, that makes it a crime to insult ‘Turkishness’ or Turkey] of our penal code benefited from a legal loophole, was Hrant Dink the only one to be found guilty?

I’m not the only one to be asking myself this question: the Armenians and a good many Turks are asking themselves the same.

In the case of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, lawyers left no stone unturned to find legal reasons why there was no case and the law dismissed the charges before it came to court. There was a similar process in the case of the novelist Elif Safak. Even thought her case had been given massive media publicity, it was dismissed at the first hearing; the author herself was not even in court.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief: even the prime minister telephoned to express his relief; journalists and academics went through precisely the same process after the debacle surrounding the Armenian conference [a conference on the massacre of the Armenians that met opposition from the Turkish government in 2005].

Please don’t think I’m envious: that’s not the point. I’m simply trying to understand why I’ve never benefited from the same approach. The day after my ‘invitation’ to the prefecture, for a thinly veiled warning, several newspapers opened an attack on me for my ‘hatred of Turks’ on the grounds that in one of my essays on Armenian identity I had claimed ‘the pure blood that would replace the tainted blood of the Turk, flows in the noble veins that the Armenians are called to join with Armenia’. I was not worried when the court started its inquiry: I could fall back on what I had actually written and my own good faith.

The investigating judge, who read the entire article and not simply that one phrase torn totally out of context, determined that I had had no intention at all of ‘insulting Turkishishness’ and that the farce should stop there: there was no case to answer. But the ministry thought differently.

Even that didn’t entirely destroy my confidence: I was convinced that at any moment in the trial, the court would realise its mistake and stop proceedings. A group of experts consisting of three professors from Istanbul University was of the same opinion. Imagine my surprise, then, when I was convicted.

‘In the name of the Turkish people’ the judge affirmed that [under Article 301] I had ‘insulted Turkishness’. I could have put up with anything, but not that. I chose to appeal, even to go to the European Court. I also came to the conclusion that if things went badly, I would leave my country: anyone convicted of such a crime had no right to go on living alongside those citizens he had denigrated.

The court of appeal upheld the sentence in spite of the chief justice’s demand that I be acquitted. At each stage of the trial, the papers repeated the same tired old phrase, claiming I had said ‘Turkish blood is tainted’. Each time, they elaborated on my role as ‘the Turk-hater’. In the corridors of the ministry of justice, fascists attacked me with racist slogans; I was threatened by post, by telephone and by email.

I felt like a pigeon: constantly looking nervously to my left, my right, in front, behind as they do. It isn’t easy to put up with all that, particularly when the threats begin to touch those close to you. There were moments when I thought there was no alternative but to leave the country. My family and my children supported me and were ready to come with me if that was what I decided to do.

But where to go? To Armenia? Could anyone like me, someone incapable of holding his tongue in the face of injustice, remain silent in the presence of the huge injustices in that country? Wasn’t I going to find myself in even greater difficulties than here in Turkey? And there was absolutely no question of exile in Europe. I had been there recently for a few days and had begun to have withdrawal symptoms: my country needed me; I was impatient to get back. What I wanted was to say in Turkey and fulfil my obligations to the thousands of friends, known and unknown, who supported me and who continue to fight for democracy in Turkey. But if one day I had to leave…

I would take to the road, as my ancestors did in 1915, with no idea of my destination. I’d make the same journey; live with the same grief; suffer the same torment. I wouldn’t go where our hearts lead us but where my feet took me. The final destination doesn’t matter. I hope I’ll never have to go through such a wrenching experience. Even if I do feel I resemble a pigeon, I know that in this country they leave pigeons alone. They continue to inhabit the heart of the capital, even among the mass of humanity that crowds the city. A little nervous perhaps, but all the freer for that.

Hrant Dink was subjected to constant harassment by the Turkish authorities over a number of years. In 2002, he was caught up in three years of legal wrangling for having said that as an Armenian, he was ‘not a Turk, but a citizen of Turkey’. He was finally acquitted, but in 2006, he was given a six-month suspended sentence for an article in Agos considered ‘insulting to Turkishness’. Before he died, he was preparing for a new trial in March 2007 as a result of his comments to Reuters on the Armenian genocide. Under Article 301, the legal authorities were demanding a penalty of three years in prison for his latest ‘insult’. Reprinted courtesyCourrier International: Translated from French by Judith Vidal-Hall.

By Rohan Jayasekera

Rohan Jayasekera is a journalist, editor and online free expression advocate, tracking human rights, digital media, cultures of change and the conflict zeitgeist.