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THE WORLD

L.A. Armenians saddened but not surprised over editor's shooting

Vigils begin and tributes are planned to honor a `witness to the truth.'

January 20, 2007|Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writer

Until two years ago, the eloquent editor of Turkey's only Armenian language newspaper was barely known to many in Los Angeles' vast Armenian American community.

But when Turkey charged that Hrant Dink's uncompromising stories had insulted that nation's identity, the iconoclastic resident of Istanbul quickly gained notice.

So his assassination Friday stunned and saddened those who had known him for years and many who had only recently learned his name.

"It is shocking but not surprising," said Raffi Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America, the nation's largest Armenian American political organization. "We are paying the results of a tragic policy on the part of Turkey to deny its past and, perhaps most tragically, the complicity of the U.S. in this denial."

For decades, Armenian Americans have urged the U.S. government to pressure Turkey to acknowledge what historians have long called the first genocide of the 20th century -- the killing of 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey beginning in 1915.

More recently, Turkey's insistence that no such genocide took place has drawn fire as it seeks acceptance into the European Union.

"I am devastated," said Frank Zerunyan, a Los Angeles attorney and chairman of the Armenian Bar Assn. "As a lawyer I always respected his views about freedom of speech. He never discriminated."

Calling Dink's slaying "horrifying," Archbishop Hovnan Derderian of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church added, "What happened in Istanbul reawakens in the hearts and souls of our community what happened in the genocide."

Just last October, the archbishop recalled, Dink was in Los Angeles and spoke to a gathering of more than 500 Armenian Americans, many of whom asked him whether he was afraid that his outspoken comments in Turkey might one day cost him his life.

"He said he was not afraid," Derderian recalled. "He said that after we have lost 1.5 million for our faith, he was not afraid to be a witness to the truth."

As church vigils began Friday and tributes were scheduled through the weekend, many Armenian Americans like Harry Kasbarian seemed stunned by the assassination.

At his Glendale tire store, Kasbarian said he, his family and friends were downhearted. At the same time, he said, Dink's willingness to ignore danger would long be remembered.

"When any voice is silenced, there will be thousands of new voices that will come up around the world," he said. "He is going to be considered a martyr."

greg.krikorian@latimes.com

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