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THE WORLD

Journalist slain in Turkey

Hrant Dink, who clashed with authorities over recognition of the Armenian genocide, had received threats.

January 20, 2007|Tracy Wilkinson and Yesim Borg | Special to The Times

ISTANBUL, TURKEY — An outspoken journalist who repeatedly clashed with Turkish authorities here over recognition of the early 20th century slaughter of Armenians was shot to death Friday afternoon on a busy downtown street.

Hrant Dink, who as editor of a Turkish Armenian newspaper was the leading voice for his ethnic community, was killed a week after he wrote about threats from unknown forces who he said regarded him as "an enemy of the Turks."

Hundreds of people marched Friday evening from Istanbul's central Taksim Square to the offices of Dink's Agos weekly newspaper, near the spot on a sidewalk where he was shot in the head. They held candles and posters with his picture; a somber silence was interrupted periodically with applause and chants for "the brotherhood of peoples."

Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler said late Friday that three people had been detained in connection with the shooting, but no additional details were released.

The slaying is likely to further darken Turkey's reputation for repressing critics of the government and for tightly controlling how its turbulent past is portrayed.

Dink, 52, was part of an elite group of writers and thinkers, including Nobel literature laureate Orhan Pamuk and novelist Elif Shafak, who have been tried on charges of insulting their country's "Turkishness" under a controversial and ambiguous law promoted by hard-line nationalists.

While most, including Pamuk, were cleared, Dink was convicted in 2005 for writing articles that criticized the law and explored questions of Turkish and Armenian identity. He was sentenced to a six-month term, which was suspended.

Last year, an Istanbul court opened a new case against him after he told a foreign news agency that the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Ottoman Turks before and during World War I was a genocide.

"Of course I say it was genocide," Dink had said. "With these events you see the disappearance of a people who lived on these lands for 4,000 years."

Turkey maintains that the deaths and expulsions that Armenians say claimed 1.5 million victims at the end of the Ottoman Empire were part of a civil conflict in which both Christian Armenians and Muslim Turks were killed.

Dink helped promote a conference of academics in 2005 who gathered here to examine the era's mass killings. The government attempted to block the conference, and the justice minister accused participants of "stabbing Turkey in the back."

On Friday, however, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was among the first to condemn Dink's "traitorous" and "disgraceful" slaying.

"Bullets have been fired at free thought and our democratic life," Erdogan said at a news conference. He urged calm.

European governments, Washington and intellectuals across the globe also deplored the killing.

"We are horrified," Larry Siems, an official with the international writers association PEN, said in a statement. "Hrant Dink was one of the heroes of the nonviolent movement for freedom of expression in Turkey, ... one of the most significant human rights movements of our time."

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said, "We certainly are concerned any time someone who has been very outspoken in their views is made to pay a price simply for their ability to speak their mind."

Turkish television Friday showed copies of letters containing death threats that Dink said he had received in the last year. He said his pleas for official protection went unanswered.

"We will silence you in a way that you will never speak again," one of the letters said.

Writing in his weekly column Jan. 10, Dink said his computer was full of "lines containing threats and rage.

"It is clear that those who try to alienate me, weaken me and leave me defenseless have been successful," he wrote. "They managed to form a group, with a serious number of people who see me as someone who 'insults Turkishness' with the dirty and wrong information they have been funneling to society."

His friends and colleagues say Dink cherished his Armenian ethnicity but remained loyal to his Turkish nation. His cause was freedom of expression and an honest confrontation of the past, they say.

"I will not leave this country," Dink told the Reuters news agency last summer, as legal charges against him mounted. "If I go I would feel I was leaving alone the people struggling for democracy.... It would be a betrayal of them."

wilkinson@latimes.com

Times staff writer Wilkinson reported from Rome and special correspondent Borg from Istanbul.

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