2 June, 2020 21:21

Hrant Dink Foundation Receives Death Threats After Attacks on Two Armenian Churches in Istanbul

By Mark Dovich

The Hrant Dink Foundation in Istanbul announced in an online statement on May 29 that it had received death threats via email in the prior days. The email messages, which use language evocative of the rhetoric circulating before Hrant Dink’s assassination in 2007, was directed toward Rakel Dink, Hrant’s widow, and the Foundation’s attorneys.

Just a day after the Foundation’s statement was published, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on Twitter that a suspect, so far identified only by the initials H. A., had been detained in connection with the death threats issued against the Foundation. Turkish media reports suggest that the suspect had been influenced, at least in part, by the views of his girlfriend from Azerbaijan, where anti-Armenian sentiment is widespread. H. A., who is believed to have a prior criminal record, reportedly faces more than seven years in prison if found guilty of sending death threats.

Additionally, H. A. is suspected of having dismantled a cross outside the Saint Gregory the Illuminator Church in Istanbul on May 23—the second attack against an Armenian church in the city in a month’s time. Several weeks earlier, on May 9, another person attempted to set fire to the door of Saint Mary’s Church, another Armenian sanctuary in Istanbul. Lawmaker Garo Paylan, one of the few ethnic Armenians serving in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly, prominently denounced both incidents.

In response, nine well-known Turkish civil society organizations released a joint statement on May 31, stressing that “the paths that led to the assassination of Hrant Dink were paved by the same language of hatred.” To that end, the organizations called on those responsible to “end the provocations and stop fanning grudge and hatred” and urged the authorities to “fulfill their duties and responsibilities properly.”

The next day, more than 200 of Turkey’s leading intellectuals, writers, journalists, politicians, and other public figures signed an open letter stating their deep concern about escalating anti-Armenian sentiment in Turkey and condemning the death threats issued against the Hrant Dink Foundation and the Armenian church attacks.

Hrant Dink was a leading Armenian-Turkish intellectual and the founding editor of Agos, the first bilingual Armenian-Turkish newspaper. The weekly newspaper, published in Istanbul, has become a platform for political analysis and dialogue about the place of Armenians in the Turkish Republic, as well as the Turkish government’s general approach to Armenians and other minority groups. As a result of his vocal and visible commentaries, Dink received numerous death threats from Turkish nationalists during his career and was also prosecuted three times for “denigrating Turkishness” under the Turkish Penal Code’s controversial Article 301.

In 2007, Dink was gunned down in Istanbul in broad daylight by Ogün Samast, a young Turkish nationalist. Dink’s assassination sparked a massive wave of protests across Turkey and drew widespread international condemnation. Samast was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for the murder, though he now has less than two years left before his release.

The Hrant Dink Foundation, established a year after the assassination, aims to carry on Dink’s legacy by promoting democracy and human rights in Turkey and advocating for improved Armenian-Turkish relations.