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L.A. Armenians denounce slaying of Turkish editor

The death of Hrant Dink, who clashed with Istanbul over its denial of genocide, was 'an assault on democratic ideals,' a follower says.

January 21, 2007|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

Members of Los Angeles' vast Armenian American community gathered outside the Turkish Consulate on Saturday to condemn the killing of prominent newspaper editor Hrant Dink, who was shot Friday on a downtown street in Istanbul after repeated run-ins with Turkish authorities.

Dink, who ran Turkey's only Armenian-language newspaper, clashed with Turkish officials over the government's denial of the Armenian genocide, the killing of 1.5 million Armenians in Turkey starting in 1915. The government position is that the deaths were part of a civil conflict in which Muslim Turks and Christian Armenians were killed.

"We are all here because we are shocked and outraged at the latest example of intolerance displayed in Istanbul," Zanku Armenian, a board member of the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region, told about 50 people gathered outside the consulate in Los Angeles.

"This was not only an attack on Hrant Dink, but it was an assault on the democratic ideals we hold so dear in our American society, along with believers of democracy around the world."

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attended the protest, as did other local politicians and human-rights activists.

For years, Armenian Americans have urged the U.S. government to pressure Turkey into acknowledging the genocide. The country's stance has drawn criticism as it seeks entrance into the European Union.

Dink was one of an elite group of writers and thinkers who were tried on charges of insulting the nation's "Turkishness" under a controversial law.

In 2005, Dink, 52, was convicted of writing articles that criticized the law. He was given a suspended six-month sentence, but an Istanbul court opened a new case against him last year after he insisted to a foreign news agency that the Armenian genocide took place.

Frank Y. Zerunyan, a Rolling Hills Estates councilman and Istanbul native, said he had known Dink for more than a decade.

"He was a true believer in the freedom of speech," Zerunyan said. "Ironically, he would have defended the man who pulled the trigger's freedom to speak about the denial of the Armenian genocide."

Dink was featured in the film "Screamers," a recently released documentary exploring why genocides have continued into the modern day that won the American Film Institute's Audience Award for Best Documentary.

Carla Garapedian, the documentary's director, said that she asked Dink about the many death threats he received.

"He said, 'I get e-mail threats and phone threats all the time,' " Garapedian recalled. "He said, 'I don't know if they are just talk, but I look over my shoulder all the time. But I will continue to struggle for democracy no matter what.' "

St. Mary's Armenian Apostolic Church in Glendale planned to hold a memorial service for Dink at 5 p.m. today.

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com

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