Teenager admits to killing writer, but has 'no regrets'

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The Independent Online

Turkish police have arrested a 17-year-old on suspicion of murdering Hrant Dink, Turkey's most prominent citizen of Armenian descent, who was shot dead in cold blood outside his newspaper office on Friday.

Ogun Samast, from the Black Sea town of Trabzon, told police: "I read on the internet that he [Dink] said, 'I am from Turkey but Turkish blood is dirty' and I decided to kill him ... I do not regret this."

The youth, who was arrested on Saturday in the Black Sea port of Samsun as he was travelling home by bus, became the chief suspect after his father told police that he recognised him from footage captured by a security camera. Police said he was still carrying the murder weapon.

Hrant Dink, 53, founded Agos, a weekly newspaper for Turkey's Armenian community, in 1996 and had edited it ever since. He was the best-known face of the Armenian community in Turkey, and his murder immediately provoked demonstrations. Shocked and emotional protesters stood outside his office chanting: "We are all Armenians, we are all Hrant Dink."

Far from being a simple-minded Armenian nationalist, Dink had attacked those who tried to politicise Turkish-Armenian antagonism, and emphasised his solidarity with the Turks among whom he lived.

When France passed a law making it a criminal offence to deny that Turkey had committed genocide on the Armenians, Dink said he would go to France and deny it. But it was the Armenian genocide and Dink's insistence that Turks face up to their guilt that led to his conviction last year on a charge of "insulting Turkishness", to the hundreds of threats to his life that subsequently flooded his office, and ultimately, it appears, to his murder.

And Dink saw it all coming. In an article published in his newspaper the day before he died, he wrote: "In the corridors of the law courts, fascists were attacking me with racist curses. Hundreds of threats via phone calls, e-mails and letters were pouring down, increasing in number day by day ... It is obvious that those wishing to single me out and render me weak and defenceless have achieved their goal. My computer is full of messages full of rage and threats."

Yet he dared to hope that he would face them down. "I may see myself as frightened as a pigeon," he wrote, "but I know that in this country people do not touch pigeons. Pigeons can live in cities, even in crowds. A little scared, perhaps, but free..."

The bitter irony is that the Dink never said "Turkish blood is dirty". In the article for which he was convicted, he had exhorted Armenians to "purify their blood of hatred for the Turks". In court Dink maintained that it was "a call for peace", but nationalists bent on punishing him for his prominence insisted that he was guilty. The garbling of his words in the media made his personal situation, in a country which, despite its size and growing wealth, remains morbidly sensitive to humiliation, increasingly perilous.

Six other suspects were arrested at the same time as Mr Samast and were being questioned in Istanbul yesterday. Minors are often employed as hit-men in Turkey because they are interrogated by public prosecutors instead of police and minors' courts tend to hand out milder sentences.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's Prime Minister, condemned Dink's murder, saying "a bullet has been fired at Turkish democracy". After the arrests, he said: "We're going to continue investigations with the same determination."

But it was Mr Erdogan's government that passed the law making "insulting Turkishness" a criminal offence, and it has yet to repeal it despite vowing to do so. Dozens of writers and intellectuals have been accused under the law, including the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, but Dink was the only person to have been convicted.

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