Thousands of Turks sign petition for acknowledgment of Armenian genocide
by Geries Othman
The new sensitivity is the result of the death of Hrant Dink, the journalist killed two years ago. People connected to his murder are also part of the trial involving Ergenekon, the clandestine ultranationalist group accused of planning a state coup.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - "My heart does not accept that the people are insensitive to the great tragedy that the Ottoman Armenians experienced in 1915. I reject this injustice, and sharing their pain and sentiment, I ask for forgiveness from my Armenian brethren." This is the online petition, more courageous than any before it, launched by three hundred Turkish intellectuals (journalists, writers, university professors) to ask for official recognition of the genocide of the Armenians during the first world war. It has been circulating on the internet for a month, and has already been signed by 27,650 Turkish citizens.

It may not be a petition that will change the intransigence always shown by Turkish governments toward the genocide of the Armenians, but it is certainly a sign that something is changing in the nation's public opinion.

This is certainly one of the most significant results of the blood shed two years ago by Hrant Dink, the Armenian Turkish journalist shot to death on the streets of downtown Istanbul. Sentenced to six months for "insulting the Turkish identity," on the basis of article 301 of the constitution, for having dared to speak, as an Armenian, of genocide in the pages of his weekly Agos and in interviews that he gave to publications abroad, he became "the enemy of the Turks," and was essentially condemned to death by the same state justice that should have defended a citizen and his right to speak.

It was January 19, 2007, when he was killed by a young ultranationalist. Two years later, it seems increasingly clear that the killing of the founder and director of Agos - the subject of a trial still far from any conclusion - expresses all of Turkey's problems: anti-Armenian and anti-Christian nationalism, limits on the freedom of expression, the overweening power of the security forces and some politicians, and the country's difficulties in coming to terms with the past.

18 men are accused in the Dink trial. They are Ogun Samast, the young man who pulled the trigger, and his 17 accomplices, with very different backgrounds, but united by ultranationalist fanaticism. And it is no accident that in this major trial that has been shaking all of Turkey for more than a year, because of the involvement of well-known political and military figures, there are more men implicated in Dink's murder. Yes, among the 86 people arrested in the case of Ergenekon, in the clandestine ultranationalist group that united bureaucrats, retired military officers, nationalists, and criminal gangs, there is Veli Kucuk, a retired general who had threatened Hrant Dink with death, and Kemal Kerincsiz, the lawyer who had repeatedly sued Dink for "denigrating the Turkish identity," and also Fuat Turgut, the lawyer for the man who ordered Dink's murder.

The killing of Dink was a shock for all of Turkey: everywhere there were gigantic photos of the slain journalist, candles in the street, 100,000 pro-democracy activists at his funeral with signs reading "We are all Armenians." No one would ever have expected such visible and stirring participation. The solidarity of the democrats and intellectuals is encouraging, and there are more and more supporters for Agos, with thousands of new subscriptions, and there is encouragement from the online petition, but there is still rigidity and strong opposition.

Almost a century later, it is still difficult to confront the genocide of the Armenians in Turkey. So in spite of the fact that Turkish president Abdullah Gul has recently come out in support of the internet campaign, and has affirmed that everyone has the right to express his opinion freely, former ambassadors and diplomats have raised protests, calling the campaign a mistake and contrary to national interests. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the angry reactions from some of the nationalists, has distanced himself from the appeal of the intellectuals who are asking for forgiveness from the victims: "I reject this campaign," he has said, "and I do not support it. I have not committed any crime, why should I apologize?"

So ten days ago, six Turkish judges presented a petition asking for the punishment of those who organized the campaign. As if this were not enough, Arat Dink, the son of the Armenian journalist, is now on trial with a possible sentence of six months, under the infamous article 301, and the accusation of "insulting Turkish identity." Behind the charges is the publication in Agos (of which he became editor after the assassination of his father) of an interview Hrant gave to the news agency Reuters in July of 2006, and in which he makes reference to the genocide of the Armenian people.

But how long can this stubborn opposition continue? When on September 6, 2008, President Gul visited Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, to watch a soccer game between Turkey and Armenia, unlike the other heads of state he refused to enter the museum (in the photo) displaying documentaries and photographs of the genocide. Nonetheless, an increasing number of Turkish tourists and journalists are visiting this museum. "More than 500 Turks came here in 2008. That is an enormous number for us, unprecedented," says Hayk Demoyan, director of the museum. "At first, they are always shocked. They are disturbed by what they see, and deny it. But after this, most of them begin to question the history of their own country. Without a doubt, they are different when they go back home." This is exactly what Hrant Dink maintained, in defense of the Turkish people that he loved. When he was asked how it was possible that the Turks would not admit the genocide, he responded that this was not because of cynicism or hypocrisy, but "because they think that genocide is a horrible thing that they would never do, so they cannot believe that their ancestors would have done it. They deny it mainly because they do not understand it, they don't know anything about it. They see it only as a threat to their identity."

The assassination of Hrant Dink has brought to light a stirring of solidarity and awareness that was unthinkable just a few years ago. These are signs of hope, hope in a process that will certainly be slow and long, difficult and contested, but that will lead Turkey to come to terms with this "black hole" in its history, from which it will emerge stronger. Many, in fact, have no doubt: if this syndrome of denial is not overcome, with the opening of a serene discussion about all the chapters of modern Turkish history, it will be very difficult for the country to carry out its transformation from an authoritarian state to a democratic state based on the recognition of universal rights. What is at stake is not so much the past, but rather the future of Turkey. "A process is needed," Dink asserted in an interview with Radikal in 2006, "in which information and expression are set free. With this development of our democracy, as we gradually come to understand it, our consciences will also become active. There must be freedom of expression. A Turkey that is not able to talk with itself will have nothing to say to the Armenians . . . We do not intend to remain stranded in history. What counts is safeguarding our future."