- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2007

“I may see myself as frightened as a pigeon, but I know that in this country people do not touch pigeons,” wrote Hrant Dink, the beloved Armenian Turkish journalist, in his last column on Friday. Today, thousands will attend his funeral service in Istanbul, expressing their pain at his murder and their shame over losing him, the first Armenian-Turk to fall victim to a political murder. Turks have also taken to the streets to support “freedom of speech” at this magnitude for the first time in the republic’s history.

Mr. Dink believed that the mass killings of Armenians during and after World War I constituted genocide, and he angered the extreme right with his position. About a year ago, he stood trial under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which criminalizes insults to Turkey, its government or the national character. Now that law has criminalized Turkey. Now those so-called Turkish nationalists are responsible for showing the world a country that is immoderate, uncivilized and intolerant. Those marching in Istanbul feel even more shamed over the mindset of those so-called nationalists in the name of protecting Turkey’s interests. The scenes of aggressive verbal and nearly physical attacks during the trial of Mr. Dink and other prominent Turkish journalists will be remembered in history as the dark face of Turkey.

The Turkish government cannot escape its responsibility in creating the environment that led to Mr. Dink’s murder — an environment that fuels people’s anxiety that the West is against Turkey. It is constantly suspicious of the West’s intentions regarding Turkey’s territorial integrity. Unfortunately, Turkish leaders fail to counteract those suspicions with an understanding and a celebration of Western values like democracy, freedom of expression and opinions.

While Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has begun the negotiations for Turkey to join the European Union, he fails to understand that EU membership will involve hard work, not political demagoguery about his country’s greatness. Turkey is a great country; it also has many problems. But in the end, it is not a matter of denying history. It’s about not clarifying the history that led to the massacre of the Armenians.

Turkish leaders chose to stay silent for years, hoping that the claims would end. They chose to impose restrictions on people who wanted to study topics related to the Armenians and the Kurds. They blocked such learning with fear and fueled the conspiracy theories about the state covering up its past. And by creating this fearful environment, they hurt themselves. Today, few publications feature narratives of the events from the Turkish point of view, written by Turkish scholars. Meanwhile, libraries in the United States and other Western countries are stocked with accounts of history from the Armenian point of view. Turkey has lost the public relations war to Armenians. And the issue is incredibly politicized.

Almost every year for the last three decades, Congress has considered bills regarding the so-called Armenian genocide that ask the president to call the events that took place between the Turks and the Armenians during and after World War I “genocide.” The last time the House International Relations Committee held hearings, Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, now the committee’s chair, said he decided to change his previous position and oppose Turkey because Turkey did not give U.S. troops a northern front into Iraq. This year, Armenians are hopeful that the bill will pass both the House and the Senate. For one, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stands for the adoption of the resolution.

“Hrant Dink’s murder is tragic proof that the Turkish government — through its campaign of denial, threats and intimidation against the recognition of the Armenian genocide — continues to fuel the same hatred and intolerance that initially led to this crime against humanity more than 90 years ago,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.

But Mr. Hamparian conveniently forgot about the Turkish diplomats victimized by Armenian hatred. Mr. Dink’s murder has unquestionably cast a shadow over Turkey. But if Congress passes the Armenian genocide bill in the wake of Dink’s murder, it will have given in to violence. Then we may expect a string of political murders by radicals or foreign agents that would push Turkey into a corner.

Turks don’t believe that the facts of history are entirely known. Therefore any Western imposition on such a sensitive matter will push them away from their country’s Western alliance — which the United States has also invested in for decades. It is easier to lose people than to earn their trust.

I can only hope that Mr. Dink’s legacy would be a true dialogue, an effort to reach a consensus from both sides about the truth of history. Congress should keep this responsibility in mind as well.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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