Half-hearted Condolences


Hard to tell which is more upsetting: Hrant Dink’s “unsurprisingly shocking” murder, or the hypocrisies uttered by government officials in his wake.

Once words of condolences and condemnation are quickly dispensed with — in a monotone reminiscent of a computerized voice telling a caller that “the number you have dialed is not in service” — the topic invariably turns toward the pending vote on the Armenian Genocide resolution in the US Senate.  As if the real tragedy is not the murder of Dink, but its inopportune timing!  Evidently, those who couldn’t bring themselves to celebrate Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel prize cannot bring themselves, for the very same reasons, to grieve Dink’s death.

This is much like the evasiveness of the royal family in the days following Lady Di’s passing.  But even in her foot-dragging, Queen Elizabeth was a good deal more sincere than our Turkish officials; Her Majesty appeared before the cameras only after the mounting protests of her “subjects,” and even then, patently reluctant, unwilling.  She was more like Putin in that regard.  It took Putin three days and insistent questioning by the foreign press to make a public statement about Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead on October 7, 2006 in the elevator of her building, no doubt in retaliation for her outspokenness on the atrocities committed by the Kremlin in Chechnya.  And yet, even in his chilling blankness toward the demise of Hrant Dink’s Russian counterpart, Putin was more honest than his Turkish counterpart.

On the Turkish front, in contrast, words of sympathies and sorrow galore, but the only genuine sentiment is the deep concern that the repercussions of the event will jeopardize national interests abroad.  These are crocodile tears — like the ones that welled up in Türkeş’s eyes back in the day, while reciting Nazım Hikmet.1

Government officials are not alone in their half-hearted condolences.  The media pundits, who have always echoed their master’s voice, are whistling the same tune.  On a radio broadcast of CNN-Turk, veteran journalist Oktay Ekşi repeated almost verbatim his Prime Minister’s comments, making a point of noting, of course, that the murder of his “peer” might play into the hands of the Armenian lobby.  Beginning his column with the exclamatory outburst “No, this can’t be happening,” the columnist and sports commentator, Hıncal Uluç, reveals a couple of sentences later what is really rending his heart: “From those striving to stir trouble in Turkey to those seeking support for their Armenian thesis, there are so many out there hoping to benefit from this death.”

“Condolences,” only short of finding Dink himself at fault for putting the Republic of Turkey on the spot!  I wish this were hyperbole, but it is not.  Remember the accusations of “provocation” levelled at Aziz Nesin in the aftermath of the Madımak inferno, which he had barely survived.2

So nauseating is the hypocrisy oozing out of these half-hearted condolences that the frankness of those who openly shout out “good riddance!” is almost preferable in comparison.  Which is worse, really: the audacity of the gunman shouting out threats in the courtroom against the human rights activist Akın Birdal, while being tried for taking multiple rounds of point-blank shots at Birdal in his office, or the two-facedness of the powers that be who prosecute the monsters of their own making?  Had he also survived the attempt on his life, wouldn’t Dink have been seeking justice from the very authorities who had sentenced him to 6 months in prison for denigrating Turkishness? Such is the sorry state of affairs in Turkey.

We know from his latest writings and interviews that this last punishment he was meted out under the infamous article 301 of the Turkish penal code had devastated Hrant Dink.  Even as bottomless an optimism as his seemed depleted.  Dink was taken to court for using the phrase “venomous Turkish blood,” by which he meant, the long held, almost visceral animosity the Armenians harbor against Turks — a hatred, he believed, Armenians should get out of their systems for the sake of dialogue and reconciliation.  Dink was calling Turkish blood venomous only in the same sense that I called his murder “good riddance” above, i.e., he wasn’t.  But the court insisted on taking the metaphor literally and out of context and found him guilty all the same, despite the expert opinion of a commission of three professors to the contrary.  And we are supposed to believe that those who made his life a Kafkaesque nightmare are now grieving Hrant Dink’s death?

That being said, it wouldn’t be fair to chalk up all the faults to the government officials and their high-fidelity echoes in the media.  For the onus of the tragic end that Dink met is on all of us who didn’t help outnumber Kerinçsiz and his gang in front of the court houses when it really mattered.  I wish we could muster our organizational skills for something other than funeral processions, our resourcefulnness for something other than commemoration.  Had only one person for every thousand reader of Pamuk in Turkey, had only a fraction of the masses at Dink’s funeral, showed solidarity with the prosecuted/persecuted during their trials, maybe today. . . .

Now the most poetic lines, the most poignant observations are of no avail.  And when he wrote “the pigeon-like timidity of my soul,” Hrant Dink didn’t leave us much to say.  And no, our sorrow, our pain is not half-hearted, but most of us sound repentant these days.


1  The leader of the far-right, nationalistic party, MHP, and its militant offshoot, “Grey Wolves,” the late Alparslan Türkeş is known to have quoted at a MHP congress from Nazım Hikmet, a world-famous Turkish poet, who remained a committed communist all his life and died in Russia in exile (“Hero or Traitor? Jon Gorvett Reports from Istanbul on Celebrations to Mark the Birth of Nazim Hikmet 100 Years Ago,” 1 April 2002).

2  On July 2, 1993, a mob of furious fundamentalists laid siege to a hotel (Madımak) in Sivas where the participants of the Pir Sultan Abdal Culture Festival were staying, including Aziz Nesin, one of the most published authors of Turkey.  Nesin and his company were targeted for Nesin’s Turkish translation of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.  As the security forces watched on, the mob set the hotel on fire, as a result of which 37 people — mostly Allevite, leftist poets, singers, performers — died (“Madimak Tragedy Commemorated on 13th Year,” 14 September 2006).


Kenan Erçel, a Turkish citizen, is a graduate student in economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  He is also a member of the editorial collective of the journal Rethinking Marxism.

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