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Turks grieve over journalist's killing

Story Highlights

• Editor Hrant Dink shot to death outside newspaper office
• Journalist known for addressing Armenian-Turk relations
• Prime minister vows to find killer
• Dink's writings often got him in trouble with government
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ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Angry, saddened Turks took to the streets of Istanbul and other cities Friday night to mourn the death of a prominent Turkish journalist of Armenian descent who was gunned down earlier in the day in front of his newspaper office.

Hrant Dink was editor of the Armenian-Turkish-language weekly Agos newspaper. He was known for speaking out against the killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire early in the last century and being in trouble with the law because of his remarks about that topic.

The killing shocked all of Turkey, where Dink also has earned a reputation for promoting dialogue between Turks and Armenians, backing open borders between Turkey and the nation of Armenia, and expressing a love of his Turkish homeland.

Protesters in Istanbul walked slowly and somberly Friday night, holding candles, wielding banners and waving flags. They carried signs and chanted phrases such as "We are all Hrant Dink and we are all Armenians."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other government officials denounced the crime, and authorities vowed to find the killer.

Erdogan said the attack was a "shock" and an "insult" to the Turkish nation and a "dark day" -- not only for Dink's family but also for all of Turkey.

"The dark hands that killed him will be found and punished," Erdogan said in televised remarks.

Authorities are looking into a lead that Dink was shot by a man who appeared to be 18 or 19 years old. Dink's body could be seen covered with a white sheet in front of the newspaper's entrance before an emergency vehicle came to take it away.

He was said to be in his early 50s.

Editor addressed Armenian-Turk issues squarely

Described as a "well-known commentator on Armenian affairs," Dink had been called into court a number of times on allegations of "insulting" the Turkish state in his writing.

"Some of the trial hearings have been marred by violent scenes inside and outside the courtrooms, instigated by nationalist activists calling for Dink to be punished," says a profile on the Web site of PEN American Center -- the writers' group that defends free expression.

Agos was established in 1996, and Dink didn't shy away from dealing with the controversies in that region over the killings of Armenians from 1915 through 1917 -- a hot-button issue in Turkey.

Armenians and other countries regard those killings as genocide, a claim rejected by the Turkish government, which says Armenians and Turks were killed in civil warfare.

Andrew Finkel, a journalist in Turkey and a friend of Dink's, emphasized that Dink's killing was "a tragedy" for a country attempting to come to terms with its past.

Finkel said resentment toward Dink existed among ultranationalist Turks, and the people who staged "ugly scenes" at his trials are the same ones who staged rallies directed at Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish writer who faced charges of insulting Turkishness as well.

He described Dink as a bright and brash man who was a well-known figure in Istanbul and an advocate for Turkey's small Armenian community -- a once-populous group now numbering around 60,000 or 70,000.

"If anything, he was a great Turkish patriot," Finkel told CNN.

"Mr. Dink, for all the libels against him, for all the opposition that was against him in certain sections of the right-wing Turkish press, was really in favor of Turkish and Armenian neighbors being able to look each other in their face and recognize their past histories. He was a courageous man who died in a terrible way."

Joel Campagna, Mideast program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, "Like dozens of other Turkish journalists, Hrant Dink has faced political persecution because of his work. Now it appears he's paid the ultimate price for it."

Campagna said that Turkey "must ensure that this crime does not go unpunished like other cases in the past and that those responsible for his murder are brought to justice."

He said that over the last 15 years, 18 Turkish journalists have been killed -- making the country the eighth deadliest in the world for journalists in that period. He said many of the deaths took place in the early 1990s, at the peak of the Kurdish separatist insurgency.

Reporters Without Borders, another journalists' advocacy group, also said a proper investigation is needed, underscoring its position that "this will be a key test for a country that hopes to join the European Union. No one would understand if Turkey failed to do everything possible to shed light on this tragedy."

Turkey has long sought membership in the EU.

Provocative articles prompt charges

PEN American Center said Dink's publication sought to "provide a voice to the Armenian community and create a dialogue between Turks and Armenians."

The group said that before his killing, "Dink had complained of death threats he was receiving from nationalists."

"We are horrified," said Larry Siems, director of Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. "Hrant Dink was one of the heroes of the nonviolent movement for freedom of expression in Turkey."

PEN listed some of the cases that made Dink a controversial figure:

  • In 2001, the Turkish government suspended publication of Agos when Dink advocated acknowledgement of genocide. He was acquitted and publication resumed.
  • In 2004, the government interpreted part of a Dink article as anti-Turk; he received a six-month suspended sentence. In his appeal, Dink said, "As long as I live (in Turkey), I will go on telling the truth, just as I always have.'"
  • In February 2006 he was acquitted of insulting the Turkish state for his criticism in 2002 of a verse in the Turkish national anthem.
  • In July 2006 he received another six-month suspended sentence after writing an article that called for Armenians to "now turn their attention to the new life offered by an independent Armenia."
  • One week later, the Istanbul public prosecutor opened a new case against Dink for referring to the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide during a July 14 interview with Reuters. Dink was awaiting his trial on those charges when he was killed.
  • Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, told CNN that the case is the "product of the environment that the Turkish government has created" -- its persistent denial that the killings of the Armenians last century did not amount to genocide.

    Said Hamparian: "Turkey needs to come to grips with its past."

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