Agos, 19 January 2007

In the beginning, I wasn’t apprehensive about the inquest initiated by the Şişli public prosecutor against me on the grounds that I had “insulted Turkishness.”

It wasn’t the first time I had faced such an investigation. I had already been through a similar one in Urfa. At a conference held in Urfa in 2002, I had stated that I was not a “Turk,” but rather a “an Armenian from Turkey.”, as a result of which I was charged with the crime of “insulting Turkishness,” leading to a trial that has been going on for the last three years. However, I didn’t even know how the trial was proceeding. I wasn’t in the least interested. Some lawyer friends of mine from Urfa were representing me at the hearings.

So I was fairly unconcerned when I gave my deposition to the Şişli public prosecutor. I ultimately believed in what I had written and in my intentions. The prosecutor would not consider in isolation that single sentence from my article, which meant nothing out of context, but would look at the entire text and easily realize that I had no intention whatsoever of “insulting Turkishness.” And soon enough this farce would be over.

I felt certain that at the conclusion of the investigation, no case would be brought against me.

I was sure of myself

But to my shock and surprise, the trial went forward.

Nonetheless, my optimism wasn’t shaken.

I was so sure of myself that during a live telephone call broadcast on a television program, I told Kerinçsiz, the lawyer pressing charges against me, that he shouldn’t be overly optimistic about the verdict and that I wouldn’t be charged with anything. I even added that if I were sentenced, I would leave the country. My self-confidence was unshakeable; in my article, there really wasn’t the slightest intention or desire to denigrate Turkishness. To anyone who read in full my series of articles, this would be abundantly clear.

Indeed, a three-person expert panel from Istanbul University submitted a report to the court stating that this was truly the case. I had no reason for concern; there was no doubt that at some stage in the course of the trial the misunderstanding would be put right.

Staying patient

But it wasn’t.

Despite the experts’ report, the prosecutor demanded jail time.

And then the judge sentenced me to six months.

On hearing the sentence, the hopes I had nourished during the course of the trial turned into a bitter weight. I was bewildered... My hurt and outrage were boundless.

For days, for months, I had held out by telling myself, “Look, just let the verdict be announced, just wait till you are acquitted, and then they will regret all they have said and written.”

In every hearing, it was argued that I had said, “The blood of the Turks is poisonous,” a claim that was then echoed in newspapers, editorial columns, and television programs.

With each pronouncement, I was becoming a little more infamous as an “enemy of the Turks.” In the hallways of the courthouse, fascists rained down racist curses on me.

They insulted me with placards and banners, and day by day the flood of threatening telephone calls, emails, and letters grew.

I had held out by telling myself to remain patient, waiting for acquittal.

With the announcement of my acquittal, the truth would come out one way or another, and those people would be ashamed of what they had done.

My only weapon is my sincerity

But instead they found me guilty, and all my hopes were dashed.

I was in the most dismal state imaginable. The judge had made a ruling in the name of the “Turkish people,” making it officially a fact that I had “insulted Turkishness.”

I could have endured anything, but not that.

In my opinion, for a person to denigrate his fellow citizens based on any kind of ethnic or religious difference constitutes racism and, as such, is inexcusable.

With this in mind, I offered the following words to those friends in the press and media who were waiting at my door to see whether or not I would hold to my word that I would “leave the country” if convicted:
“I am going to consult my lawyers. I am going to apply to the Supreme Court and, if necessary, I will take this matter to the European Court of Human Rights. After all of this, if not acquitted, I will leave my country; for someone charged with such a crime, in my opinion, does not have the right to live among the citizens he has insulted.”

As I said these words, I was, as always, emotional.

My only weapon was my sincerity.

Dark humour

But the hidden powers that had worked to isolate me in the eyes of the Turkish public and make me a viable target found cause in my statement to take me to court yet again, this time accusing me of trying to pervert the course of justice.

But it didn’t stop there; even though my statement had been published by all of the press agencies and media corporations, it was Agos that they singled out. The directors at Agos and I were put on trial, this time for attempting to unduly influence the course of justice.

This must be what they mean by “dark humour.”

I was a defendant; who could possibly have more right to influence the course of justice than the defendant?

The irony of it was that I, as the defendant, was now being tried for attempting to sway the opinion of the judge in my own case.

“In the name of the Turkish state”

I have to admit that my faith in my country’s judicial system and its conception of “law” had been thoroughly shaken.

How could it not be? Weren’t theses prosecutors, these judges people who had studied at university, graduated from law school? Should they not have the capacity to understand what they read?

But it seems that this country’s judicial system is not as independent as its public officials and politicians boast.

The judiciary doesn’t defend the rights of citizens. It defends the State.

The judiciary is not on the side of citizens. It is controlled by the State.

Consequently, of this I had no doubt: Though the ruling was presented as having been made “in the name of the people,” it was in truth made “in the name of the State.” Although my lawyers were going to apply to the Supreme Court, I could not help but wonder whether the hidden powers that be would not once again play a role there in determining my fate.

In any case, were all the judgments handed down by the Supreme Court just?

Wasn’t this the same court that had passed the unfair laws that confiscated the property of the Minority Foundations?

Despite the Attorney General’s efforts

We applied to the Supreme Court, but what came of it?

The General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court, just as the panel of experts had reported in the first trial, stated that there was no incriminating evidence and asked for my acquittal, but the Supreme Court once again found me guilty.

The General Prosecutor, who was just as sure as I was about what I had meant by what I had written, objected to the ruling and transferred the case to the court’s General Assembly.

Nevertheless, that immense power that had made it its mission to put me in my place and that, with methods I will never comprehend, had made its presence felt at every stage of my trial, was once again pulling the strings behind the scenes. In the end, with a majority vote of the General Assembly, it was announced that I had once again been found guilty of “insulting Turkishness”.

Like a dove

It is quite clear that those who wished to isolate me, weaken me, and render me defenceless have succeeded in their aims Already, by means of mudslinging and misleading information served up to the public, they have influenced a sizeable section of society, who have come to see Hrant Dink as one who “insults Turkishness.”

My computer’s memory drives are full of angry and threatening messages sent by such fellow citizens.

(I should note here that one of these letters, posted from Bursa, gravely concerned me and seemed to be an imminent threat; even though I took the letter to the Şişli public prosecutor, to date absolutely no action has been taken.)

How much substance do these threats have? Of course it is not possible for me to know.

The most fundamental threat for me, and the most unbearable, is the psychological torture that I have been immersed in.

The question that gnaws away at me is this: “What do these people now think of me?”

It is unfortunate that I am so much more well-known than I was in the past, and I am acutely sensitive to the glances thrown my way which say, “Oh look, isn’t he that Armenian?”

And, as a reflex, the self-torture begins.

One aspect of this torture is curiosity; another, disquiet.

One aspect is alertness; another, unease.

I am just like a dove…

Like that of a dove, my gaze flits right and left, forward and back.

My head is just as fidgety. And just as quick to turn.

This is the price

What was it that Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül said? What about Minister of Justice Cemil Çiçek?

“Now look, Article 301 doesn’t contain anything worth blowing out of proportion. Tell me, has anyone been sent to prison on account of it?”

As if paying a price only means going to prison…

This is the price... This is the price…

Ministers, do you know what it means to sentence someone to live a dove’s life of constant fear, what price that is? Do you?

Don’t you ever watch doves?

“Life or death”

The things I have lived through have not been easy, neither for my family nor for me.

There were even moments when I seriously considered leaving the country.

Especially when people close to me started receiving threats...

At that point I was at my wit’s end.

I thought this must be what they meant by a “life or death situation.” I could have held out on my own, but I had no right to put the lives of others in danger. I could have been my own hero, but not if it meant putting someone else in peril, least of all those dear to me.

It was in hopeless times like these that I gathered my family and children together and found shelter with them. They believed in me.

Wherever I was, they would stand by me.

If I said, “Let’s go,” they would come.

If I said, “Let’s stay,” they would stay.

To stay and resist

Okay. But if we left, where would we go?

To Armenia?

Fine, but for someone like me who cannot stand injustice, how would I put up with the injustices there? Wouldn’t I find myself in even more trouble?

As for Europe, well, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

I’m the kind of person who after just a few days in the West finds himself desperately longing for home — “Okay, enough already, I’m missing my homeland.” Now what would a person like that do in the West?

The comforts would drive me crazy.

To escape from the “fiery depths of hell” to a “readymade heaven” would go against everything I am.

We were the kind of people seeking to turn the hell in which we lived into a heaven.

Our respect for those who struggle for democracy in Turkey, for those who offer their support to us, and for the thousands of friends — some of whom we know personally, and some we don’t — demanded that we stay and live in Turkey.

Not only that, but it was our own personal desire to stay and live in Turkey.

We would stay, and we would resist.

But what if one day we had to leave? Just like in 1915 we would take to the roads... Just like our ancestors… Not knowing where we were going… Treading the same roads they travelled… Enduring the same pain, suffering the same anguish…

With that same lament, we would leave our homeland. And we would go, not where our hearts led us, but where our feet took us… Wherever that might be.

Afraid and free

I hope we never have to leave in this way. And we have more than enough hope, and more than enough reasons not to do so.

So now I am applying to the European Court of Human Rights.

How many years this case will last, I cannot say.

The knowledge that, at the very least, I will continue to live in Turkey until the end of the trial comforts me.

If a verdict is handed down in my favour, I will of course be even more pleased, and it will also mean that I will never have to leave my country.

Most probably, 2007 will be an even more difficult year for me.

The accusations will continue, and new ones will come forth. Who knows how many injustices I will face?

But as these things happen, I will find reassurance in this fact:

While I may view my current state of mind as one of dovelike disquiet, I know that the people of this country will never hurt a dove.

Doves live their lives in the hearts of cities, amid the crowds and human bustle.

Yes, they live a little uneasily, a little apprehensively — but they live freely, too.