Thousands in Turkey Mark Killing of Ethnic Armenian Journalist

Posted January 19th, 2012 at 5:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Tens of thousands of people gathered Thursday in Istanbul, Turkey to mark the fifth anniversary of the killing of an ethnic Armenian journalist.

The crowd protested a court ruling that the murder of Hrant Dink was not part of a wider conspiracy. Demonstrators carried banners saying, “We are all Hrants. We are all Armenian.” They also denounced what they called fascism in Turkey.

On Tuesday, a Turkish court sentenced Yasin Hayal to life in prison for instigating the shooting of Dink outside his office in January 2007. But it acquitted 19 defendants on charges of being part of a terrorist group.

Dink's family members and their lawyer say the journalist's murder was a planned act and that they will appeal the ruling. Hrant Dink's son-in-law, Rober Koptas, also blamed nationalist politicians for Tuesday's acquittals.

“If Hrant Dink were a test, Turkey failed, the ruling party failed. If I had to score them on a scale of one to 10, they'd get a zero. Turkey's image has already been tarnished in the international arena because of this. If candid steps are taken in the future (to rectify the verdict), Turkey's image can repaired, but I'm not very hopeful.”

The United States says it has made clear to Turkey that an independent and transparent judiciary, as well as full accountability, are critical to all healthy democracies. Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said the government of Turkey and the Dink family expect that this case is going to end up in an appeals court.

Dink was the chief editor of the bilingual Turkish-Armenian newspaper, Agos, when he was assassinated. He had angered Turkish nationalists by describing the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century as a “genocide.”

Turkey rejects the term and says the collapse of the Ottoman Empire triggered unrest that killed large numbers of Turks, as well as Armenians.

Turkish authorities have prosecuted dozens of people in connection with Dink's assassination, including security personnel accused of ignoring intelligence of ultranationalist plots to kill the journalist.

Last year, a juvenile court in Turkey sentenced ultranationalist Ogun Samast to almost 23 years in prison for the assassination of Dink. Authorities prosecuted Samast as a minor because he was 17 years old at the time of the attack. His father said he had been a pawn in the hands of others.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkish authorities failed to protect Dink and ordered the government to pay compensation to his family.

The European Union has closely followed the Dink case as it underlines concerns about EU candidate Turkey's human rights record.